Glasshouses - history, residences and growing houses

Glass-houses have been used for growing plants in a controlled environment since ancient Roman times but, the most famous glass house was designed by architect Philip Johnson in 1949 to use as his residence. Today it is a national landmark, open to the public.

Another glass residence, the Farnsworth house in Chicago, was built by architect Lugwig Mies van der Rohe in the 1940s for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. It is also a national landmark and open for tours.

Block Building at Nelson-Adkins Museum
 Steven Holl’s addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ( in Kansas City, MO, consists of five interconnected frosted glass boxes in the sculpture park. At night the Block Building resembles paper lanterns in the grass.

The glasshouses used to grow plants rather than to house people and art, date back to ancient Egypt where they were used to grow grapes as early as 4,000 B.C.

By 300 B.C. glasshouses were heated by manure pits and by 92 B.C. in Italy, Sergius Orata invented a heating system, with heat passing through flues in the floor.

One of the first structures for growing plants was built for the Roman emperor Nero. At the time, the specularium, glazed with mica, was made for the cultivation of cucumbers during winter months.

By 380, Italians were using hot water filled trenches to grow roses indoors. In the 1600s Europeans were using southern facing glass, stoves and manure to grow winter crops of citrus fruits. The growing sheds were called orangeries and later were heated with carts filled with burning coal.

One of the earliest greenhouses was built in Holland, by French botanist Jules Charles de Lecluse in 1599 for the cultivation of tropical and medicinal plants. By 1720 the first U.S. all-glasshouses were built in Boston and Chicago.

In European glasshouses, the favorite crops were pineapples, peaches, and grapes. They were built against masonry walls and heat came through flues built into the walls.

The first American greenhouse with glass on all sides was erected by Boston merchant, Andrew Faneuil before 1737. There is a complete history of greenhouse development at, and

Today, glasshouses are rarely used to grow vegetables though growing tropical fruit is fairly common. Now glasshouses are filled with tropical ornamental plants and flowers.

Many exotic plant filled glasshouses are open to the public.

At the Tulsa Garden Center ( there is a 1923 Victorian-style Lord and Burnham conservatory that houses many plants in the winter.

Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory at Myriad Botanical Garden, Oklahoma City ( is made of 3,028 acrylic panels and boasts 13,000 square feet of plant display area.

 Missouri Botanical Garden ( has the Climatron, a geodesic dome glasshouse with thousands of tropical plants.

The Jewel House in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO (, was designed by architect William C. E. Becker and built in 1936.  

Jewel Box in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

The Palm House at Franklin Park Conservatory ( in Columbus, Ohio, holds Chihuly glass art in addition to tropical plants.

Boettcher Memorial Conservatory Denver
The Corbin Conservatory in Akron, OH, is made up of 4,322 panes of laminated glass. The Conservatory, originally used by the Seiberling family to grow produce has been replicated and is open for tours (

Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory ( has over 3,000 glass panes. It was designed by J. C. Olmsted and built in 1910.

The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, FL, ( has Windows to the Tropics Conservatory.

The Melbourne Australia tropical glasshouse ( was built in the early 1900s and portions of the original tile floor are still in place.

Royal Horticulture glasshouse in Wisley, Surrey, England ( is the size of 10 tennis courts.

Traveling to glasshouses around the U.S. and around the world would make a fascinating tour.



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