How Victorians used their Greenhouses

Alitex first Victorian Greenhouse

What made greenhouses popular to Victorians?

In the Victorian era the desire to own and grow in a greenhouse was due to an increase in the interest in Botany, the study and science of plant life.

The first greenhouse emerged in England in the 17th century where a stove heated greenhouse was constructed at Chelsea Physic Garden, London in 1681 for the purpose of growing medicinal plants. The majority of Victorian greenhouses were constructed with frames that were made with a combination of both wood and metal, however only a small proportion of greenhouses were produced entirely from cast and wrought iron due to their high cost and intense maintenance requirements. With the versatile growing environment a greenhouse brought the Victorians, there was an increased desire to grow a range of more tropical species that could previously only be grown abroad. A greenhouse allowed them to endeavour in more exotic ways of gardening as it provided the perfect controlled system for them to do so.

Unfortunately for those who were passionate about growing in their greenhouses, the window tax was introduced 1696 which put a charge on buildings with more than 8 windows. Later on in 1746 the glass tax was brought in, with these combined it put an extensive strain on those who loved greenhouses but had a low income. Due to these taxes, greenhouses became a symbol of wealth and privilege for the era as only the ‘elite Victorians’ could afford them, it also encouraged those who were more well off to move out of built up cities to more greenery. About 100 years after the glass tax was introduced, it was fortunately scrapped in 1845 followed by the abolishment of the window tax in 1851, which made the greenhouse lifestyle much more accessible to those in the working and middles classes. You can see below a photograph of Alitex’s first ever Victorian greenhouse made!

What did the Victorians grow?

One of the main reasons greenhouses became more popular in the Victorian era was because the fascination with gardening grew when they became captivated by collecting diverse plants from across the globe. Where greenhouses gave the Victorians the luxury of growing a more tropical variety of plants, they particularly took an interest in growing exotic fruits. The pineapple, originally from South America, became a popular addition to Victorians greenhouses because it was largely sourced from overseas and could not be grown in the UK outside of a controlled growing environment. Similarly, they also took a liking to growing grapes (which originated in the Mediterranean) for the same reason that they require an exotic environment to grow them successfully. Owning a greenhouse also gave the Victorians the benefit of extending the growing season, in the modern day, we do this through using LED grow lights.

Arundel Castle Greenhouse in the UK

Arundel Castle in the UK grows a variety of exotic fruits including papayas and lemons.

How did Victorians heat their greenhouses?

If Victorians wanted to heat their greenhouses, they used the likes of a simple stove or the burning of solid fuels such as Coal or Coke. In those days, the preferred heating device was fueled by Coke because it was cleaner-burning compared to coal. This system was also used favourably over stoves, as the use of stoves in greenhouses was harmful to the plants because of the fumes that were released from them.  As technology and engineering evolved, cast iron boilers with pressurized systems eventually took its place at the end of the century.

Some more history…

In 1803-1865 Joseph Paxton was one of the most well established gardeners and architects, who went on to design elite greenhouses for the Victorians. To begin with, he was designing greenhouses for Chatsworth House (now the home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire) as their head garden designer, he then also constructed the impressive Crystal Palace in London.

The greenhouse is also known as the Victorian glasshouse due to its history where it became an iconic feature of British gardens during the 17th century. Our Alitex glasshouses have carried on the greenhouse heritage through becoming the home of the modern Victorian greenhouse. Evolving from the Victorian era, our greenhouses are made from polyester powder coated aluminium frames which before being painted undergo three vital pre-treatment stages to ensure its luxury quality. Here at Alitex, we are proud to manufacture and engineer a variety of Victorian glasshouses, ranging from custom designed projects to our official partnership range, the Kew greenhouse collection, where you can bring your Victorian dream to life!