Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gilded Age Greenhouses

Me and Mario (left) in the camellia greenhouse at Planting
Fields State Historic Park.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love botanical gardens.  One of my favorites is Planting Fields State Historic Park near Oyster Bay New York.  It houses an extensive arboretum and series of greenhouses designed, in part, by the famous Olmstead brothers in the early 20th Century.

Greenhouses in the gilded age were a bit of a status symbol in that they housed rare and exotic plant species that were collected from all over the world.  Why else would one have a camellia or hibiscus collection in Long Island on a private property?

Regardless of the motivation, the preservation of exotic plants in greenhouses has a long and interesting history.  For example, this brief article provides some interesting historical perspective within the context of the term "orangery".  There are many examples of amazing greenhouses, conservatories, and orangeries that were built during the gilded romantic age of the U.S.  Take a look at this beauty that some of you may have seen in your travels.  I have found that each conservatory is different and each takes on a unique expression of the individuals involved with their development--from the greenhouse designers, to the modern-day volunteers who tend them.

Gilded age conservatory construction essentially ceased with the modernist movements in the 20th century.  For example, take a look at these photos of the retrofabulous space-age conservatory in Milwaukee that was designed in the the late 1950's.  The conservatory consists of three "domes" of glass and are part of a larger park system called Mitchell Park.  How will our present era be expressed through greenhouses?

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