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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds-The Greenhouse/ Conservatory Debate

It was not too long ago that I was asked a question that seemed to stick with me- it stuck with me to the point that it became the inspiration for this article. My friend had simply asked me how things were going in my ‘conservatory’. Conservatory???? hmmmm….I assumed that she was referring to my sunroom that is attached to the house and I proceeded to go on and on about the fireplace I built, and the columns I was creating and all of the insulation and decorating plans I have to complete before winter hits here in Alberta. It never even occurred to me that this was not the ‘plant room’ that she was referring to.

The space that she was inquiring about was actually my FAVORITE space- my GREENHOUSE. When I told her which room I had assumed she was speaking of, she asked me what would be better…a greenhouse? or a conservatory? Which one would I rather have? All day long I was pondering her choice of words, and the implications that were associated with it. CONSERVATORY. GREENHOUSE. HMMMMM Which one WOULD be the better to have??? This led me to do a little digging.

A greenhouse is a plant growing structure just as a conservatory is. They both have walls and ceilings that are primarily clear, as they are generally constructed out of mainly glass or in some cases clear hard plastic, poly or even plexi- glass. There many similarities between the greenhouse structure and the conservatory, but there are also some significant differences.

There is no one thing that will separate a greenhouse from a conservatory, it is a combination of things. A conservatory is generally a more ornate structure which is usually an addition to a house wall. Exceptions to this are evident in the conservatories of the past which stood away from the magnificent homes…but were prominent enough to catch the eye. A greenhouse is generally a place set away from the house where plants are cultivated, propagated and raised rather than just simply set out on display. Lets take a moment to discuss the direct features of each structure:

The Greenhouse:

-primary consideration is given to the comfort and healthy well being of the plants.

-the general purpose of the greenhouse is to cultivate and grow plants which may or may not be ornamental.

-greenhouses are primarily detached structures that stand alone from other structures such as the house.

-in many (but not all) cases a greenhouse is built to be a working structure and is created without a lot of ornamentation, it is there for functional use and is made in a more practical form

-greenhouses are equipped with practical elements such as flooring that can be spilled with soil or water, (often wood decking, compacted soil, or concrete is used) staging for the healthy propagation and seeding of plants. Independent heat and cooling systems are installed to keep the most optimal temperature for the plants.

-they are often more affordable to build and maintain than other plant growing structures. Greenhouses are often more durable as they are made for function rather than form.

The Conservatory:

-the well being and comfort of the people who use the conservatory are the primary concern. They are often used as a sitting room for the homeowner therefore they have many more decorative elements instead of functional tools.

-the general purpose of the conservatory is the display of ornamental plants. Specimen plants are chosen for showy leaves and interesting stems or flowers.

-the majority of conservatories are an addition to the house.

-decorative flooring is used in a conservatory from carpet, to tiles, to marble flooring.

- are not really a practical room to be ‘gardening’ in, as they are not equipped with the practical elements of a greenhouse. They are built for form over function therefore they may not be as durable.

-even a small conservatory can be rather expensive to build.

As an avid gardener and plant lover in general, I love the idea of both of these structures, and don’t like to have to choose…and then I got to thinking….

Who says a working greenhouse cannot have it all? Is there a law in some gardening handbook that states that a greenhouse cannot be a working functional growing structure, AND be a beautiful peaceful retreat for the gardener and his/her guests? If there is I think I am going to beg to challenge it!

I fill my greenhouse with the tools of the trade- I plant all the seeds I can get my hands on, make messes and water till the floors are soaking wet, and plant till my little heart is content.

I grow all four seasons in my greenhouse and I love every moment of the growing of the spring crops of annual flowers and houseplants alike.

Once spring is upon me, the ‘fruits’ or should I say ‘blooms’ of my labors are transplanted to the gardens and my greenhouse undergoes a bit of a transformation if you will.

Cleaning and scrubbing, primping and planning, shelving gets dismantled and stored away…seeds packed up and specimen plants all dusted and pruned back to make room for the pretties of the ceramic or metal ornamental kind. I literally dismantle the industrial interior of my greenhouse to make my way for the transformation to a conservatory style retreat.

I bring in chairs, craft myself some tables and a wicker sofa complete with comfy cushions, cozy pillows and soft blankets. Lighting changes from bright to filtered and plants surround me in the cozy retreat in fine garden style.

Cozy Place to Grow in the Greenhouse

Old antiques, salvaged old storm windows and unique garden ornaments are in amidst the creative plant displays. It is on this day that my greenhouse goes from practical style work space to a relaxing retreat filled with the fruits of the growing season’s labors.

For me there is no question to it. Nothing to ponder- nothing to weigh. The answer to me is plainly clear.

Why would I want a conservatory when I have a greenhouse- one that can easily be spruced up to do double duty as a sitting retreat? I have the best of both worlds. AND…I have a sunroom/conservatory attached to my kitchen/dining room too!

The reality in my world is that I am fortunate enough to have my working greenhouse- which works hard from January through to May or June, and then gets changed out to a cozy seating retreat (much like a conservatory) for the summer fall and early winter months.

I am also fortunate enough to have a sunroom /conservatory built right onto the back side of my house. In my conservatory, I cannot spill water or soil on the floor…there is carpet in there. I do not set up any shelving in there as there is not a lot of room….and it has been decorated by me to be a relaxing sitting room…extension of my home…where I enjoy a few of my houseplants that have matured to be potted up as specimens.

When I am in the mood to be a REAL gardener- I go out to the greenhouse and work in the soil, plant some new seeds, and get down right dirty some days.

There is nothing better for the heart and mind than a little dirt therapy may it be in a greenhouse…or a conservatory…or a flower garden.

So? What type of garden structure would you prefer? I know I love my Greenhouse…and would not trade it for anything in the world.

Until next time…signing off from Alberta Canada…Happy Gardening!

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