Most cacti enjoy dry, hot environments, while orchids thrive in humid, tropical locales. Every plant has its ideal growing conditions, but sometimes Mother Nature does not cooperate. To create the best growing conditions for a specific plant or plant type, people devised buildings that could be climate-controlled. Greenhouses, conservatories or orangeries are usually framed in metal, wood or plastic. Then the frame is lined with panels of glass or polycarbonate, a clear form of heat-resistant plastic. The clear panels work to trap the sun's heat warming the building, yet gardeners must adjust ventilation accordingly to keep the building's temperature within the range needed for the plants.
Many of the first greenhouses were created to diversify or increase food supply. Now, greenhouses are still used to produce food, but others are used to grow plants for decoration, landscaping and educational purposes. In this article, we will explore 10 different greenhouses from around the world. We'll start in the United States.
10: The New York Botanical Garden
The White House has long been surrounded by beautiful gardens. The first greenhouse was built in 1857 during the presidency of James Buchanan [source: The White House Historical Association].
The Big Apple borough of the Bronx is home to The New York Botanical Garden, which boasts two greenhouses among its many gardens. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is the largest Victorian-style glasshouse in the United States [source: Warren]. Opened in 1902 and restored in 1997, the conservatory is divided into different biomes filled with diverse plant species, including a substantial palm collection.
The Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections opened at The New York Botanical Garden in 2005. The 43,000-square-foot (approximately 3,995-square-meter) structure has state-of-the-art climate-controlling capabilities such as open-roof ventilation, shade curtains and radiant heat flooring [source: The New York Botanical Garden]. The greenhouse's collection is divided into eight growing areas and includes aquatic plants, desert plants, orchids and ferns [source: The New York Botanical Garden].
9: Walt Disney World
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For an educational greenhouse with a kid-friendly atmosphere, head to Florida. Within the Epcot Theme Park of Walt Disney World, The Land pavilion houses a series of greenhouses. Guests can peek into The Land's four greenhouses -- the Tropics Greenhouse, the Temperate Greenhouse, the Production Greenhouse and the Creative Greenhouse -- when they take the 14-minute Living with the Land ride [source: Walt Disney World News]. Sites include Mickey Mouse-shaped pumpkins, a 59-foot (approximately 18-meter) tall peach palm and sweet potatoes growing without soil [source: Walt Disney World News].
For a more in-depth view of the greenhouses and the science behind many of the horticultural techniques used by the Disney scientists, buy tickets for the one-hour Behind the Seeds tour.
8: Eden Project
Over the Atlantic Ocean in the United Kingdom, you can visit a horticultural attraction growing out of a former quarry. The Eden Project, which fully opened to the public in 2001, was created on the site of a china clay quarry in Cornwall, England [source: Eden Project]. The major features of the Eden Project are the greenhouses that resemble flexible clear beach balls growing out of the ground. The Rainforest Biome is kept at around 90 percent humidity and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) to create just the right tropical environment [source: Eden Project]. Higher than the Statue of Liberty at 50 meters tall (approximately 164 feet), the Rainforest Biome simulates a jungle feel with more than 1,000 different plant species, including banana plants, tropical ferns and even the rare Titan arum, or corpse flower, which packs a powerful smell [source: U.S. Department of the Interior and Eden Project].
The other enclosed greenhouse holds the Mediterranean Biome, which mimics the climate of South Africa and California. Guests will find a variety of plants that thrive in these warm, temperate conditions, including olive trees, orange trees and cork plants [source: Eden Project].
You don't have to travel far to visit the next greenhouse on the list because it also hails from the United Kingdom.
7: RHS Garden Wisley
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Run by the famous Royal Horticultural Society, the RHS Garden Wisley is the society's premier garden. Located in southeast England in Surrey, the garden's signature icon is its new greenhouse -- the Glasshouse. Created for the Royal Horticultural Society's bicentenary, it was even officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth [source: Royal Horticultural Society].
The Glasshouse resides on a peninsula in the middle of a lake surrounded by outdoor plantings. The actual 40-foot (12-meter) structure houses three different climate areas [source: Mahr]. The tropical zone includes a large waterfall feature and a pond filled with water lilies. The moist, temperate zone boasts tree ferns and palms, while in the dry, temperate zone, you can find cacti and succulents [source: Royal Horticultural Society].
6: Glass City
Well-known for tulips, wooden clogs and windmills, the Netherlands is also famous for its greenhouses. One region, in particular, is nicknamed the Glass City because of the number of greenhouses in a concentrated area. This part of the country is more formally referred to as the Westland, located on the western side of the Netherlands between The Hague and Rotterdam. It's one of the oldest and largest areas of greenhouse produce growers in the country. Key crops include sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce [source: The Royal Netherlands Embassy]. More than 50 percent of all fruits and vegetables produced in the country are grown in greenhouses [source: The Royal Netherlands Embassy].
Next, we will travel to a neighboring European nation.
5: Royal Greenhouses at Laeken
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Just over the border in Belgium, a regal set of greenhouses grace the northern suburb of Brussels. Located on the grounds of the Royal Castle at Laeken, 6 acres (2.5 hectares) of greenhouses were created under the direction of King Leopold II by architect Alphonse Balat and took more than 30 years to build [source: The Belgian Monarchy and VisitFlanders]. Made of iron and glass, the 19th-century greenhouses include a large collection of camellias, azaleas, palm trees and a variety of rare plant species [source: The Belgian Monarchy and VisitFlanders]. The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken are opened to the public for three weeks a year during the spring [source: The Belgian Monarchy].
The next greenhouse is located far north of Belgium in Scandinavia.
4: City Winter Garden
In the capital of Finland, Helsinki, the city's center offers a green oasis during the frigid winter months. The City Winter Garden houses more than 200 different plants inside the three distinct rooms of the greenhouse [source: City of Helsinki, Public Works Department].The palm room is home to palms as well as the oldest plants in the greenhouse, more than hundred-year-old camellias. To catch the camellias' blooming, visit from October through February [source: VisitHelsinki]. The western room holds cycads and palmettos, while the last room is filled with cacti and other desert plants [source: City of Helsinki, Public Works Department].
For the next greenhouse, we travel far south to India.
3: Lalbagh Botanical Garden
The capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, Bangalore, is sometimes referred to as the Garden City because of its many parks and green spaces [source: de Bruyn]. Bangalore's city center is home to the Lalbagh Botanical Garden. Starting out as the private 40-acre (approximately 16 hectare) garden of Hyder Ali, a ruler of Mysore in the 18th century, the garden now includes more than 240 acres (approximately 97 hectares) [source: The Directorate of Horticulture].The garden boasts about 1,800 species of plants, including ficus trees, bamboo, ferns, lotus, magnolia and cypress plants [sources: The Directorate of Horticulture and Caine].
One of Lalbagh's highlights is the Glass House. Built in 1889, the greenhouse was modeled after the glass-and-iron Crystal Palace in London, England [sources: BBC and The Directorate of Horticulture]. It's now best known for the biannual flower shows that take place within its walls.
2: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Located in South Africa, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is only about 13 kilometers (approximately 8 miles) from the center of Cape Town and set on the eastern slope of Table Mountain [source: South Africa Tourism]. It's one of South Africa's oldest botanical gardens, having been founded in 1913, and also one of its largest at about 528 hectares (approximately 1,305 acres) [source: South African National Biodiversity Institute]. The botanical garden is unique because it displays only indigenous South African plants.
One of the highlights of the gardens is the Botanical Society Conservatory, completed in 1996. The 17,600-square-foot (approximately 1,600-square-meter) facility houses one main room and four smaller adjacent rooms [source: van Jaarsveld]. The conservatory is divided into areas by climate and location in South Africa. For example, if you're looking for a plant found in the northern region of South Africa, you would go to the northern part of the conservatory. Representing the arid conditions of South Africa, plantings include the baobab tree, succulents, bulbs, ferns, aloe plants and Fynbos vegetation unique to the Cape floral region of Africa [source: South African National Biodiversity Institute].
Next, we head even further south to Antarctica.
1: South Pole Food Growth Chamber
The South Pole Food Growth Chamber is located inside the new Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, dedicated in January 2008 [source: The National Science Foundation and Sorenson]. While technically not a greenhouse because it doesn't use sun to heat or grow the plants, it's still an enclosed growing chamber [source: The Associated Press].
Delivered to the South Pole in 2004, the chamber uses artificial light, carbon dioxide and hydroponics, which uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to grow plants [source: Barber]. The chamber is about 18 feet by 28 feet (approximately 6 meters by 9 meters) and grows everything from lettuce to hot peppers [sources: Barber and McGinley]. The chamber yields about 60 to 100 pounds (27 to 45 kilograms) of produce a week to feed the staffers in the station [source: Sorenson]. Along with food production, the chamber also provides green plant life and sunlight for staffers to enjoy during the long winters in the barren landscape of Antarctica [source: Sorenson].
Scientists hope that the science related to this greenhouse will translate to outer space environments such as Mars [source: Sorenson].
Whether used as a display garden or a food-producing plot, greenhouses create environments that allow plants to thrive in a range of countries worldwide.