It’s surprising how the subject of orangeries can cause arguments. First there’s the question of what is the difference between a conservatory and an orangery? Then there are the arguments over the origins and history of the orangery. This article will explore these questions and why the orangery deserves to be a topic for conversation in the 21st century.
What’s the difference?
The simplest answer is to say, ‘an orangery is just an expensive conservatory’. This sounds flippant, but the truth is that an orangery is more expensive because it is more substantial. Where conservatories often look like ‘add-ons’ to a property, orangeries rarely do. Conservatories are generally a brochure choice, meaning that aside from small particulars most are chosen from a general design. Whereas orangeries are usually more bespoke, that is uniquely designed for the particular property to which they will extend. This results in a building that looks like it belongs where it is. It may contrast with the existing property, but this will be visibly by grand design, not by accident, or forced by a low budget. Orangeries are literally built with more substance, in that glass is used in proportion and almost always with careful design in mind. Where conservatories often look like a glass box, an orangery looks like a building where natural light has been carefully and beautifully captured.
There are so many differing claims as to the actual origins of the orangery. Like some colonial land, France, Italy and Holland all have their claims with England demanding mention because it is where the popularity took hold and spread. The answer to this question is ultimately it just doesn’t matter. The only useful question for history is how does it influence today and the future? Inspiration is important here, precisely because an orangery is so often a bespoke choice.
So when you’re researching your orangery, forget the accuracies of its origins and look to what inspires you. Is it one of the earliest in Paris at the ‘Palais du Louvre’, dating back to 1617? Or would you benefit from a visit closer by to the orangery at Kensington Palace, built in 1705, or that of a later design by Sir William Chambers in 1761, at Kew. Then there is Vienna, (ah Vienna) with the Schonbrunn Orangery ordered built by the Holy Roman Emperor, Franz Stephan, in 1754. Germany too has wonderful examples in Dusseldorf, Potsdam and Hannover (among many others).
A journey spent wandering around the orangeries of England or further afield would not only inspire you it would simply be a lovely way to spend your holidays. The fact that so many orangeries are tourist attractions says so much. It certainly says that orangeries are not only for growing fruit. They are beautiful and relaxing places to be and that is one certainty in a contentious history.