by Harriet Bond
(San Francisco, CA, USA)
There are several different types of structures that might appear within a garden setting, hopefully the following article will make clearer each of their individual role within the garden landscape:
Deciding whether or not to include a greenhouse in your garden is a difficult problem. To decide, as a matter of principle, that you must have one is certainly a grave mistake. If a greenhouse is not going to be enthusiastically and systematically used, it will tend to be a waste of money and more than likely unsightly.
There are a whole range of shapes and sizes to choose from, but generally the free-standing greenhouse is not an elegant feature. A greenhouse needs to have a reasonably bright position and hence cannot be completely screened. It need not be in the sunniest place as one of the major problems in summer is trying to keep the greenhouse cool.
As it is most used in winter and early spring it will be necessary to provide an efficient heating system. We think the main benefit of a greenhouse is for the overwintering of semi-hardy subjects and particularly for starting flower and vegetable seeds, and cuttings, early in the year.
Its use can extend the gardening year and give enormous pleasure, but the degree of dedication to the greenhouse and the cost of the heating must be considered. However, in many ways the conservatory offers greater benefits than the traditional greenhouse.
Conservatories and Lean-to Greenhouses
These have a number of advantages over the functional greenhouse. They require less heating as they retain and absorb heat from the house itself. (The heating system can run from the house central heating). The proximity of the house means that it is far more likely to be used and hence kept neater and tidier.
It is a delight to be able to sit out in a conservatory on a day when it is fairly warm but not quite warm enough to be outside. As less heating is required than in an ordinary greenhouse you can more easily afford to maintain a higher temperature; this enables you to keep a large range of unusual plants, climbers and other flowering and fruiting subjects. Also a conservatory does, of course, make a very good link between the inside of the house and the garden itself.
There are a wide range of conservatories available now in quite elegant designs. They may also be purpose built to suit the house. In order to make full use of the conservatory or lean-to greenhouse it will be necessary to make an area within it, slightly more out of sight from the rest of the ornamental conservatory planting, for the over wintering plants, potting and material storage.
A summerhouse can be situated almost anywhere in the garden and may form an interesting focal point. However, the summerhouse is of most use where the orientation of the house is not ideal, and the space that could be paved for a sitting area is north facing. A wide range of prefabricated summerhouses are available, most of them are related to garden sheds but generally of more interesting design, although some can be ugly.
It is obviously worth getting a number of brochures and having a good look at what is on the market prior to deciding on a purchase. Certainly allow sufficient space for keeping all your garden furniture in the summerhouse as it will be sited, more than likely, some distance away from the house.
The alpine house is only mentioned briefly as it will be slightly different in design and function from the greenhouses and conservatories that we have been discussing. Generally it is a more functional house altogether and a specialist item which should only be considered for inclusion in the garden design if growing alpines is a specialist hobby.