Throughout civilized history, man has found ways to display flowers and greenery for the simple sensory enjoyment they provide. Conservatories of various levels of sophistication have been assembled on every continent, throughout every historical era; from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (circa 600 BC) through the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, till the present day, conservatories have held a treasured place in our hearts and homes.
Historically, conservatories developed along with refinements in the manufacture of glass. Although the Romans used mica for its translucence and insulating properties, their conservatories vanished along with their empire. Then, for a brief time in Britain, a 'window tax' prevented the use of glass by any but the wealthy and greenhouse-like rooms became a symbol of the upper classes who hosted gala fetes and dinner parties in their architecturally ornate conservatories.
Starting in the 1400's and continuing for several centuries, European explorers sailed around the world, collecting specimens of exotic plants and animals for their patrons. Not being indigenous to the area, delicate foliage demanded protection from the elements in order to thrive. This need was met first by simple wooden enclosures and eventually with glass greenhouses with hinged panes that could be manipulated to control cooling and heating.
Interest in exotic plants and animals was heightened by the discoveries of Charles Darwin as he sailed to formerly unknown areas like the Galapagos Islands. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution gave the working classes a step up and a new middle class arose. As populations began to shift from rural to urban, the desire for greenery was intensified. As a result, conservatories built to nurture and display indoor gardens began to proliferate and architects were challenged to design ever more massive public enclosures for tropical flora and fauna.
The early nineteenth century saw Charles Darwin discovering and recovering heretofore unknown plant species and returning them to the West for study. This gave rise, in turn, to an upsurge in public conservatories which featured new architectural styles and housed extensive indoor gardens. New engineering advances enabled the construction of massive metal and glass enclosures for the display of an infinite variety of plant species and, in some case, birds and butterflies as well.
The first few decades of the 20th Century brought a downturn in construction of new conservatories, along with all other non-essential building. The Depression followed by the war brought such activities to a halt, but the fifties saw a renewed interest in gardening and nature in general. The newly invented insulated glass and enhanced simplicity of inside climate control led inevitably to the acquisition of conservatory-like structures. Ornate Victorian style was replaced by sleek modern additions to every kind of home, from bungalows to palatial abodes, allowing everyone access to the beauty of nature without leaving the comfort of home.
No longer limited to the wealthy, conservatories are now within the reach of everyone. The push for a greener world has brought even more interest in these lovely additions and whether one lives in the city, the suburbs or in a rural area, a glass-enclosed room in which to raise plants, children and pets and the ability to enjoy the great outdoors from an indoor easy chair makes a conservatory the best room in the house.