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Greenhouses Then and Now

Greenhouses have come a long way since the first one was built in 30 A.D. for the Roman emperor Tiberius. Being an emperor, Tiberius wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it. Because of his cravings for cucumbers out of season, the greenhouse was born.

: Glass had not been invented so the "Specularium" was painstakingly fabricated from tiny translucent sheets of mica.

NOW: Panels are now offered in a choice of various thicknesses of glass, polycarbonate or plastic. Some are clear, some opaque. Small squares or large sheets.

It wasn't until 1599 that the first practical greenhouse was built. It was designed by Jules Charles, a French botanist. Built in Holland and used primarily to grow medicinal tropical plants, the idea caught on and greenhouses began spreading throughout Europe.

In the early 1600's the French were introduced to a new fruit, the orange and promptly fell in love. They immediately began building orangeries to protect the trees from frost. Picture a structure large enough to house 340 full grown orange trees, as was one in Germany. The roofs were huge. They had to be painstakingly put up during cold weather and removed during the warm season, employing the hands of many workers.

Low unemployment.

NOW: Push-buttons have replaced people.

Experimenting with angled glass walls and heating flues to improve the efficiency of greenhouses went on throughout the 17th century. As greenhouses became more efficient, they grew larger and more elaborate. The palace of Versailles is a perfect example of the elaborate efforts of the royalty to build bigger and more spectacular orangeries. Almost the length of two football fields, it had a southern exposure for light and heat.

By the mid nineteenth century glass was plentiful and the wealthy began competing with each other to see who could build the most elaborate structure. Greenhouses still primarily housed only citrus trees and rare flowers.

The first greenhouse on record in the United States was built around 1737 by Andrew Faneuil, a wealthy Boston merchant. Like his European predecessors, Faneuil used it primarily to grow fruit. George Washington, perhaps the richest man in America at that time, was then prompted to build a pinery built at Mt. Vernon because of his craving for pineapples.

Because of the expense of building and maintaining a greenhouse, the concept spread slowly. Finally, by 1825, greenhouses were becoming increasingly common.

: Many of the greenhouses were heated by furnace warmed air.

NOW: Small electric or gas heaters.

THEN & NOW: Some pit greenhouses built into the earth are heated by south facing windows only.

Indeed the modern concept of the greenhouse is simple and practical. No longer is it the private domain of the moneyed class but something anyone interested in gardening can have for relatively little cost.

Today a greenhouse can go virtually anywhere there is space; it can be an attached greenhouse, freestanding and placed in a backyard or perched on a deck, roof or balcony.

In addition greenhouses are becoming more automated, reducing the time, care and cost required.

Long gone are the days of mica windows and manual labor to remove panels for ventilation.

A hobby greenhouse frame today can be made from aluminum, fiberglass, pressure treated wood or pvc pipe. Side panels of acrylic, polycarbonate, tempered glass or even plastic make today's garden green houses manageable for everyone.

by: Jean Gallagher, OnlyGreenhouseReviews.com