1994, Clive Foster, Study Of Glasshouse Practices, USA

Report of visit to the U.S.A. and Canada to study the glasshouse management of five large public conservatories

By Clive Foster

In October, 1994, I travelled to the U.S.A. and Canada to study the glasshouse management of five large public conservatories. The rationale behind this was to assess the current status of conservatory management in light of the recent spate at new large scale constructions and in relation to the development of modern growing methods.

Since the 1960’s and, in particular during the last ten years, there has been an upsurge of interest in the amenity conservatory due to a variety of technological, social, economic and political factors, I.e. the burgeoning leisure market; corporate or municipality status; engineering developments with glass skinned buildings and increased horticultural and environmental awareness. These are almost identical factors to those present in the heyday at conservatories in the Victorian era when architects such as Joseph Paxton (among his many talents) and Decimus Burton respectively, first designed such magnificent structures as the Crystal Palace and Palm House at Kew. However, as a result at the decline in fortunes supporting many gardens of that time and also the change in tastes to a more naturalistic style of horticulture, that trend did not continue and consequently there have been very few new large scale developments until the recent period. In contrast with this decline, glasshouse management has progressed enormously since that time, as a result at vast post-war scientific and commercial research into plant growth, response and pest control. Additionally glasshouse equipment and computerisation developments have provided horticulturists with tools undreamt of by the Victorians.

Five conservatories were chosen to study methods of environment control, plant husbandry and pest control. The conservatories visited were at Longwood Garden (near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), The Opryland Hotel (Nashville, Tennessee), Montreal Botanic Garden (Montreal, Quebec), the Myria Gardens (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) and Mitchell Paris (Milwaukee, Wisconsin).

The findings from the trip are contained in a more extensive report enabling the description of technical details. However, my overall impression of the management of these structures was of the high standards of excellence achieved within a variety of different contexts. Longwood is a fine display garden; the Opryland Hotel a magnificently landscaped atrium; the Myriad Gardens and Milwaukee Domes are botanic oriented displays within unique structures; and the Montreal Biodome an imaginatively ambitious “environmental museum”. Plant husbandry in particular was of a very high order through a combination of modern environment controls and old fashioned horticultural craft.

The greatest changes in glasshouse management, however, related to the control of pests. Integrated pest management practices are developing across the Atlantic as dramatically as in Europe. The success and increasingly skilled use of such practices by horticulturists has led (as a result of low biocide use) to opportunities to combine flora and fauna in exciting new displays. This was clearly exhibited by the “environment museum” concept in Montreal and to a lesser extent by the Milwaukee Domes and Myriad Gardens which used frogs, lizards and a variety of birds to enhance their displays and educational programmes. As a consequence of this and in combination with new and improving technology, the role of horticulture within conservatories is widening and methods of management changing to accommodate new objectives and possibilities.


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