The Amateur's Greenhouse and Conservatory/Introduction

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Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.
Unconscious of a less propitious clime,
There blooms exotic beauty, warm and snug,
While the winds whistle and the snows descend.


All plants, of every leaf, that can endure
The winter’s frown, if screened from his shrewd bite,
Live there, and prosper.”Cowper.

The briefness of the British summer and the frequent interruptions to out-door enjoyment, occasioned by adverse weather, render the well-kept plant house a place of most agreeable resort at every season of the year. The capabilities of our climate are truly wonderful, for we may, with a considerable degree of safety, enrich our gardens with plants that are natives of subtropical and arctic climes; and yet we find our varying selection of subjects seriously restricted unless we are aided by plant houses of some kind or other, to ensure for our favourites better conditions than the unprotected soil and free atmosphere would afford them. Hence, for pleasure and utility alike, the various structures that have been adopted as aids in plant-culture are of the utmost importance to the horticultural amateur, for they bring within the range of his observation and practice the vegetable products of climes that differ greatly in conditions from our own, and they may be so managed as to provide the best possible imitation of a perpetual spring, or of “summer all the year round.”
The object of this little work is to afford some useful information, systematically arranged, on those departments of plant-house construction and plant cultivation which may be properly considered under the general heads of the “greenhouse” and “conservatory,” in which a temperate climate is maintained, as distinguished from the “stove,” the “orchid-house,” and other structures in which a tropical climate is required for the advantage of tropical plants. Considering the treacherous nature of our climate and the length of the winter season, it cannot be said we have as yet attained to a full knowledge of the value of glass in horticulture. Nevertheless immense progress has been made since glass and bricks and timber were rendered free of duty, and the vast number of patented plant houses and protective pits that are now in the market sufficiently prove that the demand for such has increased and is increasing. An amateur who purposes to provide some kind of glass structure to enlarge the uses and enhance the enjoyments of the garden may well be perplexed at first as to the best mode of procedure. The horticultural papers teem with advertisements of “portable,” “imperishable,” and “multum in parvo” plant houses, and with an almost endless variety of apparatus for heating. It will be found, however, on careful inspection, that in plan and material these do not greatly differ, and that in certain leading particulars they very nearly agree all round, so that a blind man could scarcely go wrong, except, perhaps, as to price, in making choice amongst them. But it is not every one who desires the latest patented invention turned out complete as from a bandbox. In one case an amateur may elect to be his own builder; in another there may be need to give a builder directions, and, perhaps, to watch over the work. One important condition of success, whatever be the mode of procedure, is that the amateur should have a clear idea of the sort of house required to suit the plants he intends to shelter in it.
The great point is to begin well, and the business of the writer of this will be to point out as clearly as possible how the desired end is to be secured, at the least possible expense, and with the greatest possible promise of a successful issue. Matters of fact will concern us chiefly, but matters of opinion will, perhaps, occasionally intrude and be governed always with good intentions, and seasoned with some little knowledge of the subject—sufficient, let us hope, for the purpose.
A disquisition on the nice distinctions that might be drawn between the meanings of such terms as “stove,” “hothouse,” “greenhouse,” and “conservatory,” would serve no useful purpose. They are all plant houses, and depend for their distinctions quite as much on the furnishing and the management as upon structure and fittings. A house may be heated to 80° or 90° to-day for the comfort of orchids, and be called a stove. If we remove the orchids and put pelargoniums in their place, and lower the temperature to 40° or 50°, it becomes a greenhouse. We have but to enlarge it, and introduce camellias and acacias, and give the whole affair a somewhat elegant aspect, and it becomes a conservatory. These several terms are convenient because they refer to different things. But there is no occasion to define them precisely, and we might indeed go wrong were we to attempt the definition.
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(Welfia regia.)