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An orangery or orangerie was a building in the grounds of fashionable residences from the 17th to the 19th centuries and given a classicising architectural form. The orangery was similar to a greenhouse or conservatory. The name reflects the original use of the building as a place where citrus trees[1] were often wintered in tubs under cover, surviving through harsh frosts. The orangery provided a luxurious extension of the normal range and season of woody plants, extending the protection which had long been afforded by the warmth offered from a masonry fruit wall.[2] A century after the use for orange and lime trees had been established, other varieties of tender plants, shrubs and exotic plants also came to be housed in the orangery, which often gained a stove for the upkeep of these delicate plants in the cold winters of northern Europe. As imported citrus fruit, pineapples and other tender fruit, became generally available and much cheaper, orangeries were used more for tender ornamental plants.

The orangery originated from the Renaissance gardens of Italy, when glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced. In the north, the Dutch led the way in developing expanses of window glass in orangeries, though the engravings illustrating Dutch manuals showed solid roofs, whether beamed or vaulted, and in providing stove heat rather than open fires.[3] This soon created a situation where orangeries became symbols of status among the wealthy. The glazed roof, which afforded sunlight to plants that were not dormant, was a development of the early nineteenth century. The orangery at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire, which had been provided with a slate roof as originally built about 1702,[4] was given a glazed one about a hundred years later, after Humphrey Repton remarked that it was dark; though it was built to shelter oranges, it has always simply been called the "greenhouse" in modern times.[5]

The 1617 Orangerie (now Musée de l'Orangerie) at the Palace of the Louvre, inspired imitations that culminated in Europe's largest orangery. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart for Louis XIV's 3,000 orange trees at Versailles, its dimensions of 508 feet (155 m) by 42 feet (13 m) were not eclipsed until the development of the modern greenhouse in the 1840s, and were quickly overshadowed by the glass architecture of Joseph Paxton. Notable for his 1851 design of the Crystal Palace, his "great conservatory" at Chatsworth House was an orangery and glass house of monumental proportions.

The orangery, however, was not just a greenhouse but a symbol of prestige and wealth and a feature of gardens, in the same way as a summerhouse, folly or "Grecian temple". Owners would conduct their guests there on tours of the garden to admire not only the fruits within but the architecture without. Often the orangery would contain fountains, grottos, and an area in which to entertain in inclement weather.

Earliest examples

As early as 1545 an orangery was built in Padua, Italy. The first orangeries were practical and not as ornamental as they later became. Most had no heating other than open fires.

In England, John Parkinson introduced the orangery to the readers of his Paradisus in Sole (1628), under the heading "Oranges". The trees might be planted against a brick wall and enclosed in winter with a plank shed covered with "cerecloth", a waxed precursor of tarpaulin.[6] "For that purpose, some keepe them in great square boxes, and lift them to and fro by iron hooks on the sides, or cause them to be rowled by trundels, or small wheeles under them, to place them in a house or close gallery"—which must have been thought handsomer than the alternative.

The building of orangeries became most widely fashionable after the end of the Eighty Years' War in 1648. The countries that started this trend were France, Germany, and the Netherlands, these countries being the ones that saw merchants begin importing large numbers of orange trees, banana plants, and pomegranates to cultivate for their beauty and scent.

Construction materials

The need to build these [orangeries] came from two areas: the need to house such delicate plants, also the image status from the wealthy, both however were constricted in their choice of materials available for the task, they were mostly south facing and were constructed with brick or stone bases, brick or stone pillars with a corbelled gutter arrangement and mainly had large tall windows to benefit from the warm sunlight in the afternoons, with the north facing walls built without windows in a very heavy solid brick, or occasionally with much smaller windows to be able to keep the rooms warm. Insulation at these times was one of the biggest concerns for the building of these orangeries, straw became the main material used, also many had wooden shutters fitted to keep in the warmth.

Early orangeries

The first examples were basic constructions and could be removed during summer. Notably not only noblemen but also wealthy merchants, e.g., those of Nuremberg, used to cultivate citrus plants in orangeries.[7] Some orangeries were built using the garden wall as the main wall of the new orangery, but as orangeries became more and more popular they started to become more and more influenced by garden designers and architects, which led to the connection between the house and architectural orangery design. This became further influenced by the increased demand for beautiful exotic plants in the garden, which could be grown and looked after in the orangeries.

This created the increased demand in garden design for the wealthy to have their own exotic private gardens, further fuelling the status of the orangery becoming even more the symbol of the elite.[7] This in turn created the need for orangeries to be constructed using even better techniques such as underfloor heating and the ability to have opening windows in the roofs for ventilation. Creating microclimates for the propagation of more and more exotic plants for the private gardens that were becoming creations of beauty all around Europe.

Continental European orangeries




  • Laeken, Orangerie of the Royal Castle of Laeken (ca. 1820)




Orangeries in the United Kingdom

The orangery at Kensington Palace (1761) is the earliest surviving work there by Sir William Chambers. At 28 m (92 ft) long, it was the largest glasshouse in Britain when it was built. Though it was designed as an arcade with end pavilions to winter oranges, the light levels under its solid roof were too low for it to be successful.

The orangery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was designed in 1761 by Sir William Chambers and at one time was the largest glasshouse in England.[8]

The orangery at Margam Park, Wales, was built between 1787 and 1793 to house a large collection of orange, lemon and citron trees inherited by Thomas Mansel Talbot. The original house has been razed, but the surviving orangery, at 327 feet (100 m), is the longest one in Wales.[9]

There is an orangery dating from about 1700 at Kenwood House in London, and a slightly earlier one at Montacute. Other orangeries in the hands of the National Trust are at Ham House & Garden, Richmond, Surrey, Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; Ickworth House, Suffolk, where it forms part of the garden front of the dwelling wings; Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire, a central feature on the late-eighteenth-century terraces; Saltram House, Devon, probably to a Robert Adam design; Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland; and Blickling, Norfolk.[10]

A recent orangery was constructed in 1970 by Victor Montagu in his formal Italianate gardens at Mapperton, Dorset.[11]

There is a mid 19th century orangery which has now been converted to apartments at Norton Hall in Sheffield, England.[12]

Orangeries in the United States

In the United States, the earliest partially intact surviving orangery is at the Tayloe house, Mount Airy, Virginia, but today it is an overgrown ruin, consisting only of one major wall and portions of the others' foundations. A ruined orangery can also be seen at the gardens of Eyre Hall in Northampton County, Virginia.

The oldest-known extant orangery in American can be seen at the Wye Plantation, near Tunis Mills (Easton), Maryland. This orangery sits behind the main house and consists of a large open room with two smaller wings added at some point after the initial construction. The south-facing wall consists of large triple-hung windows. A second story was traditionally part of the style of orangeries at the time of its construction in the middle to late 18th century as a way of further insulating the main section where the plants were kept. According to the current resident, Ms. Tilghman (a descendent of the Lloyd family), it served as a billiards room for the family. This plantation is also notable as having been the home of Frederick Douglass as a young slave boy. The orangery is described in the book Glass Houses, as is the orangery at Mount Airy.

Ms. Tilghman notes that plants are still stored inside the building in winter, but a frame has been constructed to hold the houseplants, and the whole of the frame is covered with plastic to keep in moisture. In this way, the plants do not have to be watered through the entire winter.

Another orangery stands at Hampton National Historic Site near Towson, Maryland. Originally built in 1820, it was part of one of the most extensive collections of citrus trees in the U.S. by the mid-19th century.[13] The current structure is a reconstruction built in the 1970s to replace the original, which burned in 1926.[14]

The orangery at the Battersea Historic Site in Petersburg, VA is currently under restoration. Originally built between 1823 and 1841, it was converted into a garage in a later period.[15]

An 18th-century style orangery was built in the 1980s at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. Another early 19th century example can also be seen at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. It was built in 1810, and is now used to house gardenias, oleander and citrus plants during the winter.[16]

See also


Further reading

  • Woods, Mary (1996). Glass Houses: A History of Greenhouses, Orangeries and Conservatories.
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