INSIDE 6 OF THE WORLD’S MOST BREATHTAKING CONSERVATORIES

July 24, 2019

The British Isles might not conjure up notions of balmy temperatures and lush, fauna-filtered sunshine, but that’s precisely what a pair of photographers stumbled upon one morning in Oxford, England. The duo, India Hobson and Magnus Edmondson, were visiting the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and found themselves floored not just by the humidity, but by the sweeping convergence of manmade architecture and nature’s enveloping grandeur. In their words, the duo had entered a space where “the organic and the engineered had become a little confused, mixed up and grown wild together.” This discovery spurred a worldwide adventure to document the globe’s most spectacular conservatories, and the result is the duo’s lush new tome Glasshouse Greenhouse. Here, we’ve rounded up six of the epic greenhouses Hobson and Edmondson document in their book, plus their thoughts on what makes each steamy escape a figurative global hotspot.

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1. Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco, California, USA

Among the many places Hobson and Edmondson’s journey took them was San Francisco’s iconic Conservatory of Flowers, located within the city’s famed Golden Gate Park. This grand Victorian-era greenhouse is the oldest wooden municipal conservatory in the country and houses hundreds of horticultural species, virtually all of them otherworldly and sublime. Of particular note for Hobson and Edmondson is the Conservatory’s Aquatics Plants Gallery, which features a canopy of tendrils and vines that have twisted their way from the ground into the building’s impressive domed ceiling framework.

2. The Camellia House, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire, UK

As the name would suggest, this greenhouse is dedicated to preserving camellias, a small flowering tree native to Eastern and Southeastern Asia.  The Camellia House is an early 19th Century stone structure originally built to shield the plants from harsh British winters (a function found to be unnecessary for the hearty camellia). The design results in an interior of symmetrical aisles and arched bays in each corner, encouraging visitors to explore every avenue of leafy branches.

3. T.H. Everett Alpine House, Wave Hill, New York, USA

Just north of bustling Manhattan in the borough of the Bronx is the Wave Hill Public garden and the site of our next greenhouse: the T.H. Everett Alpine House. The Alpine House presents a far more modest exterior; a small wood clad and aluminum structure, evoking vibes of “seaside chalets” in Hobson’s and Edmondson’s words. Inside, the green house and its outdoor terrace are filled with all manners of alpine plants. Categorically, alpines are species bred to thrive in the most unforgiving environments: windy, rough mountainous regions. Although they don’t wildly differ visually from more common houseplants, these alpines are equipped for any conditions their Hudson Corridor perch may throw at them.

4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, UK

What would a tour of world class greenhouses be without a mention of Kew Gardens? The first garden on this site was established in 1759 with the modern day complex presenting “so quintessentially British that it almost hurts,” according to Hobson and Edmondson, who are both native to the UK, themselves. Historically a retreat for members of the royal family, the contemporary version at Kew is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to over 30,000 species, research facilities, and six separate greenhouses. The highlight for our authors? The vastly diverse Princess of Wales Conservatory, which allows visitors to walk among orchids, bromeliads, and ferns amid a backdrop of soaring glass panes.

5. Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Singapore has constructed their own interpretation of the greenhouse: the Cloud Forest. Opened in 2012, it’s a feat by the architecture firm WilkinsonEyre, housing both the world’s largest waterfall (115 feet) and a man made “mountain” built to simulate the environment of 3,000 feet above sea level. These carefully coordinated conditions work to produce actual clouds within the massive domed space. This phenomenon, called silvagenitus, occurs naturally only a few places on Earth, where altitude and moisture evaporating from mosses and lichens work in tandem to create a cloud forest. 

6. Tropical Display Dome, Brisbane Botanic Garden, Mount Coot-tha, Queensland, Australia

Situated at the foot of Mount Coot-tha (an Aboriginal word meaning “honey”), The Tropical Display Dome has become the de facto symbol of the larger Brisbane Botanic Garden. This massive geodesic dome is home to a myriad of heat-loving plants hailing from Colombia to Vietnam. But it’s under this sweeping latticework hive in eastern Australia where they now thrive together in lush, tropical opulence.

To see the full list of glorious greenhouses from their globetrotting tour, be sure to pick up India and Magnus’s new book Glasshouse Greenhouse.

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All by photos by India Hobson and Magnus Edmondson. Courtesy of Rizzoli.