The Conservatory as an Extra Room
You may have an old conservatory in need of renovation or a spare room that you can adapt to the benefit of plants and people alike. Here we present our ideas to show you how to make a charming conservatory room and cultivate plants within.
Little can be done to prevent the disappearance of the larger houses and their accompanying conservatories that are often vast and separate from the main building. They were expensive to keep up in their heyday and the expense of running such places in modern times is formidable.
But the other types of conservatory design — annexes to the house and of more modest proportions — are still in evidence and need not share the same fate as their larger counterparts. These smaller buildings, originally conceived in Victorian times, vary greatly both in shape and style. Some still date back to that era and are easily recognized by their highly ornate design, domed roofs, moulded iron gantries and pillars. But with the passage of time styles have changed.
A true conservatory should be more than simply a home for plants, it should also provide an extra living room, a pleasant place for tea, for dinner, for friends, for relaxation — an oasis. So if you have such a spot, why not rescue it from the clutter of old toys, lawn-mowers and bric-d-brac? As long as it’s not in such a state of disrepair that it really defies restoration, there is no excuse for not refurbishing what has become little more than a storage area.
Nowadays heating should not be a problem as long as your conservatory is a half-brick structure, as most of the older types are, and it is built onto the house wall so that frost is unlikely to creep in. Anyhow, efficient paraffin heaters are available today that are very cheap to run and will prevent this.
If you can go to the expense of providing extra warmth, the plant world is at your command, and you will have an enviable display of plants during winter. J-Iowever, being practical and with your bank balance in mind, we will describe a simple frost-free conservatory.
The basic requirements
Naturally, you could lavish money on the interior design of your conservatory, but all you really need is a water tap and a central paved or non-slip floor on which to arrange your furniture. Tiled floors are expensive and beautiful but may be treacherous when wet.
Open beds around the interior perimeter of the conservatory should be left and are best edged with kerbings or bricks; railway sleepers are a good alternative — all will preventspillage. Include greenhouse staging along one side but do keep the house wall free so that can be shown off to full advantage. The borders need to be wide enough — say 90cm (3 ft) — to accommodate a reasonable range of plants for year-round flowering. Always remember that in an ordinary greenhouse the plants are the sole occupants and you the caretaker. In the true conservatory you and your plants share a home.
Problems of space
If space is limited, you may have to forget about borders altogether and grow plants in tubs, but don’t be discouraged. Get the largest tubs you can and try to keep to one size. If you’re going to paint them, stick to one colour such as plain white; nothing looks worse than a motley assortment of pots, urns and planters in all the colours of the rainbow. Do not compete artificially with the brilliant, natural colour of your plants.
If, on the other hand, you have plenty of room, a small pool built in the centre of the conservatory, with perhaps a fountain playing merrily away, would give a superb focal point. But, as a word of warning, border the pool with a low, wide wall, say 45cm (18 in) high and 23cm (9 in) wide. This should stop children in particular from taking an unexpected bath and save anywith which you may have stocked your pool from undue alarm. A pool is not advisable if you have small children.
Types of furnishings
Your next adventure will be to choose furniture for the conservatory. The choice is wide and really a matter for your own taste. Upholstered styles, however, must be excluded. Conservatories are, of necessity, humid and with all the water you’re going to be dispensing, stuffed settees or chairs will soon be reduced to little more than culture media for a host of moulds. But you can make a free choice from metal, wood and cane, or plastics.
Tubs and urns come in a vast range of styles, colours and materials. Try to match your tubs with your furniture to get the best effect. Empty wooden tubs and concrete urns are light enough to lift about but filled with 25kg (56 lb) of compost, this is no fun. Fibreglass ones, modern or classical reproductions, are light and extremely tough.
The positioning of your furniture must depend on how you have laid out your beds and pots. If you have made a central focal point by using a free-standing tree or pool, don’t clutter the conservatory. Try placing a bench or settee with its back to one of the borders or putting a low coffee table in front with two chairs on either side. This will enable you to view and enjoy the greater part of the room from one position.