Britain's best indoor gardens
The Great Glasshouse, National Botanic Garden of Wales
Image via Flickr
Designed by the prestigious architect Norman Foster, the Great Glasshouse was originally designed to resemble a giant raindrop.
With 785 panels weighing in at a quarter of a ton each, it’s the world’s largest single-span glasshouse and hosts plants from California, Australia, the Canary Islands, South Africa, Chile and the Mediterranean. Despite covering less than two per cent of the Earth’s surface, these areas contain over 20 per cent of all known flowering plants. It’s a fact head of marketing David Hardy finds easy to remember because, “That’s where all the good red wine comes from!”
David’s favourite plants in the garden couldn’t be more different. “Puya berteroniana is a vicious razor-sharp, spiked llama-killer from the Andes. Phylica pubescens, on the other hand, looks like the fluffiest thing you’ve ever seen—until you touch it, that is. Then you know it is.”
Visit botanicgarden.wales for more information
Down House, Downe, Kent
Tucked away in the green grounds of Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin and his family, is a small but significant blue glasshouse that proved vital to some of the naturalist’s discoveries.
Charles Darwin first tried to rear tropical plants in his drawing room but the space was too small and too cold, so the specimens failed to bloom. To solve the problem, he built this quirky glasshouse in the early 1860s and took to the serious business of rearing and experimenting with the specimens he brought home from his many trips abroad.
Says head gardener Antony O’Rourke, “Visitors can step back in time and walk in the footsteps of the great man himself through a series of themed plant collections including orchids, carnivorous and climbing plants.”
Keep an eye out for the impressive collection of insectivorous plants, which Darwin was particularly fascinated by. He used to feed them with raw meat and egg whites—and even his own nail clippings.
Visit english-heritage.org.uk for more information
David Welch Winter Garden, Duthie Park, Aberdeen
This unique indoor garden is home to such intriguing highlights as the corridor of perfumes and the world’s only “talking cactus”.
Boasting Britain’s largest cacti and succulent collection, the gardens were the passion project of the late horticulturist and head of the Royal Parks, David Welch. He was the man responsible for casting out the officious “Keep off the Grass” signs in all of the Royal Parks and his Winter Garden is a testament to his belief that gardens are to be experienced, not just admired from a distance.
No matter where your eye wanders in this garden, it’s met with a shock of colour, as lush greens combine with the explosive fuchsia of the extensive Bromeliad plantings. Even the ponds are filled with colourful fish and terrapins.
Round off your visit with a trip to the nearby Japanese Garden. It was opened in 1987 to pay homage to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Visit visitabdn.com for more information
Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens
First erected by Victorian eccentric and inventor John Kibble, this magnificent glass and steel greenhouse first opened in 1873. Back then its interior was lit by over 600 coloured gas lamps, and the venue played host to a smorgasbord of public speakers including former Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli.
Today it’s home to a forest of Kiwi and Australian tree ferns, some of which have grown in the palace for an impressive 120 years.
A peaceful haven in the heart of Glasgow, these engrossing gardens are the perfect place to unwind, whether you’re gazing at the colourful collection of koi fish or sheltering from the cold spells outside.
Visit glasgowbotanicgardens.com for more information
Sheffield Winter Garden, Sheffield
Europe’s largest urban glasshouse is so big that you could house 5,000 domestic greenhouses within its walls. Home to more than 2,500 plant varieties from around the world, it’s an oasis of calm in the middle of the busy city centre.
Visitors can relax under the large green leaves of the plants, enjoy some light refreshments from the on-site cafes or browse the Millennium Gallery housed inside. It’s an especially welcome escape when the weather turns inclement—with so many exotic plants around, it’s easy to forget the rain beating down outside.
Says service manager Dave Gill, “Winter Garden is an iconic Sheffield landmark. The garden tells the story of how plants have shaped our history and the uses humans have found for them. Quite literally, without plants you wouldn’t have a shirt on your back.”
Look out for the Norfolk Island pines, which can grow to over 150ft!
Visit sheffield.gov.uk for more information
The Bicentenary Glasshouse, Surrey
With three zones to explore—tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate—stepping into this huge indoor garden feels as though you’ve stumbled upon an undiscovered jungle.
Stretching over an area the size of ten tennis courts, many of the species growing in this cathedral-esque structure are rare or endangered—special plants that are made all the more spectacular by the backdrop of several dramatic waterfalls.
Says garden manager Emma Allen, “Rising to 12 metres high, the glasshouse is computer-controlled to maintain desired levels of light, heat and ventilation. This allows us to grow both tropical and temperate plants including large palm trees, bananas and tree ferns, as well as creative temporary displays. There’s always something new and exciting to see.”
Our favourite area is the tropical zone, where the viewing platform affords visitors a bird’s eye view of the tropical canopy, right down to the aquatic plants of the warm jungle pool below.
Visit rhs.org.uk for more information
The Barbican Conservatory, London
Central London may not be the first location that springs to mind when thinking of all things green, but nestled away among the Brutalist concrete exterior of the Barbican Centre is a lush indoor conservatory.
Free to visit, this is the second largest conservatory in London and home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees, as well as a variety of exotic fish.
Says Marta Lowcewicz, a gardener at the Conservatory, “People are always amazed by the unexpected sight of the leafy, verdant environment when entering the Conservatory. One of the many discoveries that can be made while exploring the space are coffee and tea plants, allowing visitors to see the origin of their favourite morning brew while immersing themselves in the tranquil ambience.”
Visit barbican.org.uk for more information