relaxation lessons from the past // part two: conservatories
In the first of this series, we looked back at a variety of the leisure habits of our ancestors; pre-email, pre-smartphones, pre-technology, back to relaxation habits of the medieval age. We covered the dawn of spiritual relaxation, burgeoning meditation practices, and the change in work-life balances as the industrial age beckoned.
Today we're focusing in on one Victorian pastime that is making a particular resurgence: the conservatory.
First introduced to England in the 17th and 18th Centuries, glasshouses came about when explorers began to bring home exotic flora and fauna from their travels around the globe. A welcome place for escapism and surrounding oneself with tropical plants, conservatories were a luxury reserved for the rich. It was popular to have a glasshouse or orangery in the gardens of large stately homes, often designed in a classical style to resemble temples.
The experience of strolling around a conservatory, heated to replicate exotic climates, incited a certain sense of relaxation. Emblematic of tropical climes, exotic getaways and opulence, the glasshouse offered welcome refuge during the colder months, and escapism during the summer.
Whether you have an interest in botany or simply seek spaces in which to unwind, the Victorian pastime for surrounding oneself with plants is making a resurgence.
The Victorians would invite their guests on tours of their orangeries, strolling around at a leisurely pace to admire both the architecture and the plants within the structure. Back then, it was a symbol of wealth and power to have access to such a luxury. Nowadays, we are surrounded by conservatories, glass houses and orangeries that are available for anyone to explore.
An interest in plants has recently resurged, due in part to fashion and interiors trends referencing the Seventies (a hey-day for house plants). Cacti and succulents in particular have become incredibly popular. A natural extension of the desire to carefully place plants around our homes is the wish to view this flora within its natural environment. Rather than traipsing across the globe, tropical, exotic and desert-dwelling plants can be seen thriving in artificial glasshouses all across the country from renowned institutions such as Kew Gardens and the Eden Project, to local botanical gardens and smaller, privately owned conservatories.
photo: emma lavelle
Even for those with little or no interest in plants, there is an overwhelming sense of peacefulness that fills the humid air of orangeries. Particularly when visiting some of the smaller glasshouses (after all, you’re hardly likely to have Kew to yourself), you will sometimes find yourself all alone with the greenery. These are places where there is no cause for rush and no designated route in which to wander. Take time to slowly amble around the structures, admiring the tranquillity.
Keen photographers, writers and artists will find plenty of inspiration inside these glasshouses. Textures, scents, colours and light are all intensified within the glass walls; the artificial environment becoming a very real place that gives an accurate interpretation of the natural habitat of the plants. Those seeking a creative boost, looking to relieve stress or seeking a boost to productivity will find their senses bombarded and revitalised.
photo: emma lavelle
The less known the glasshouses are, the better they are suited for escapism. Destinations such as Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery in Derbyshire or Chelsea Physic Garden in London are a far cry from thriving tourist hot-spots, but the peacefulness that you will find here is what carries the charm. When visiting these small greenhouses you will still find an abundance of plant life, but there is a high chance that you will be the only visitor, allowing for an uninterrupted and silent wander.
Try it for yourself this weekend, and stay tuned for our next post in the series.