Artifact Corner: Victorian Greenhouse

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be exploring a room in our museum. This is Betsey’s green room. This room was an addition to the home done in the early Victorian period. Betsey was a plant lover, and had the most beautiful gardens, but winters in the North Country are very cold. In order to keep plants alive, you need to bring them indoors. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of greenhouses and why they became so popular during the Victorian era.

The first recorded greenhouses or hot houses were in Rome. Pliny Elder reported that the Emperor Tiberius ate cucumbers every day, and that in order to do so, he needed to create a temperature controlled environment to grow them in year round. The cucumbers were stored under frames or in cucumber houses glazed with either oiled cloth, known as “specularia,” or with sheets of mica. According to San Jun Yoon in their work, “Advanced Horticultural Techniques in Korea: The Earliest Documented Greenhouses,” the first description of a heated greenhouse is from the Sanga Yorok, a treatise on husbandry, from the 1450’s. The treatise contains detailed instructions on constructing a greenhouse that is capable of cultivating vegetables, forcing flowers, and ripening fruit within an artificially heated environment, by utilizing ondol, the traditional Korean underfloor heating system, to maintain heat and humidity; cob walls to retain heat; and semi-transparent oiled hanji windows to permit light penetration for plant growth and provide protection from the outside environment. The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty confirm that greenhouse-like structures incorporating ondol were constructed to provide heat for mandarin orange trees during the winter of 1438.

The first of what we would consider modern greenhouses were built in Italy in the sixteenth century to house the exotic plants that explorers brought back from the tropics. They were originally called giardini botanici or botanical gardens. Experimentation with greenhouse design continued during the 17th century in Europe, as technology produced better glass and construction techniques improved. The greenhouse at the Palace of Versailles was an example of their size and elaborateness; it was more than 490 ft long, 43 ft wide, and 46 ft high. In the 19th Century greenhouses experienced a seismic shift in growth, particularly in England. With improvements in glass and ironwork technology, glass houses could be built to a monumental scale. The conservatory at Kew Gardens in England, is a prime example of the Victorian greenhouse. The greenhouse has over 15,000 panes of glass and covers over 16,000 square feet! It is massive.

Our green room is clearly not to the scale of a place like Kew Gardens, but still serves the same function. The mostly glass addition allows tons of light to warm the space, and keep it at a reasonable temperature for plants throughout the winter. Betsey loved this space, and we do too. On a cold February day, when the sun is out in full force, it is warm and cozy room to spend some time in. It’s a very Victorian room and we are so lucky to have it be a part of our museum. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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