According to Pliny the Elder's writing from the first century, the Roman Emperor Tiberius liked to eat cucumbers out of season and had his architects create the first greenhouses out of transparent sheets of mica. Since then, monarchs and the wealthy, followed by botanical societies and educational groups, have been creating marvellous greenhouses to educate the public, study economically important plant species or to house vast rare plant collections.
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Palm House at Kew
The Palm House is the icon of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by Decimus Burton in the shape of an upside-down ship. Richard Turner constructed it from 1844 to 1848 with many shipbuilding techniques to span the large, open space needed to house the tall, tropical palm collection at the gardens. It is now considered the most important Victorian-era wrought iron and glass building in existence.
Originally it was heated by coal fires and underground pipes, but it now is heated by natural gas. It still holds the garden's tropical palm collection, with the tallest plants in the centre. It features economically important tropicals like coconuts and oil palms, as well as rare plants such as the Madagascar triangle palm.
The Eden Project is a series of large geodesic dome greenhouses in Cornwall, England, built as an education centre to teach the public about human dependence on plants. They were built as part of the Landmark Millennium Project and opened in 2000. They were constructed on the site of an old quarry that had been carved into the southern face of a mountain. The domes sit like a series of connected soap bubbles against the sheer rock wall. The rock retains heat from the day and radiates it into the domes at night. Each dome is framed with steel and glazed with pillow-like geometric shapes of clear plastic filled with air. Two biomes are featured: tropical rainforest and Mediterranean. Each biome takes up four adjacent domes, and the two areas are connected with a central passageway. The tropical biome is 170,000 square feet and the Mediterranean biome is 70,000 square feet.
Royal Greenhouses in Laeken
Royal Greenhouses in Laeken, Belgium were designed by Alphonse Balat in 1873 to surround the palace of King Leopold II and house the royal exotic plant collection. The buildings cover six acres, comprised of numerous galleries, domes and rotundas in neoclassical style that helped set the standard for later Belgian architecture. Each building is made of elaborate iron and glass, with planted gardens and pathways linking them together. The first greenhouse built on the site was the Winter Garden used to house palms. Other houses contain ferns and edible tropical fruit such as bananas.
The palace is the private home of the present king and queen, and they open the greenhouses to the public for a few weeks every year. Many of the original plants are still in the collection, along with other rare and valuable specimens from around the world.
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