Whatever you call it, the glass-walled, glass-roofed garden building made a real appearance in Britain in the late 17th century. Among the first were three glass cases with timber frames erected at Hampton Court Palace in 1689 to hold the exotic plant collection of King William and Queen Mary.
It was in the 19th century though, when improved engineering and the fall in the price of glass made their creation much easier, that the greenhouse really became the on-trend thing to have. Curving roofs, made possible by the development of cast iron frames, were just one of the innovations dreamt up in order to better grow tropical and subtropical specimens, while, as plant collecting ambitions grew ever larger, so did the greenhouses themselves. The use of greenhouses to grow not only edible plants but ornamental ones too, meant that they crept closer to the house and, no longer confined to the walled kitchen garden, became more elaborately decorative in style as well. Heating systems were elaborate too: Joseph Paxton’s Great Conservatory at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire was heated by steam carried through pipes powered by eight boilers which, in turn, were fed by a steady stream of coal coming in on underground rail wagons (inside this huge greenhouse there was even a central thoroughfare large enough for a horse and carriage to travel down).
Gradually, as manufacturing techniques, materials and costs improved, so did the possibility of glasshouses for homes other than the grand estates. A whole host of makers sprung up to meet the demand from middle-class households, and greenhouse designs were available for every sort of plant, from shade-loving ferns to peach houses and vineries.