It’s time to face facts: British summers are not very good. In fact, they seem to be getting worse each year! Perhaps that’s why more and more homeowners are choosing to have conservatories fitted to the back of their homes, to allow them to extend the summer months and enjoy their gardens more. Conservatories have the ability to bring the outdoors inside, and there’s no better way to do that than to grow some plants. But how do you create a lush and colourful oasis in your conservatory?
Conservatories have previously had the reputation for being too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter – so how do you get past this if you want to grow plants successfully? Modern conservatories with efficient glazing actually create an ambient temperature throughout the entire year, allowing you to enjoy more time in your sun room. Depending on the orientation of your property, a north facing conservatory is generally best for growing plants, while a south facing conservatory is more beneficial for people to enjoy the sunshine.
Creating a climate in your conservatory
First things first, it’s important to create the right climate in your conservatory. Having double glazed glass in the conservatory certainly helps, and having solar-controlled glass on the roof of the conservatory can help to reflect the sun when it is at its highest and strongest point. Failing that, electrically operated blinds can be installed to create some well needed shade for plants in times of intense sunshine.
There are generally three options when it comes to heating a conservatory. You’ll need to decide whether you want the conservatory to be heated to normal day temperature (approx. 15-21 degrees Celsius) so that it has a similar climate to the rest of the house, or to keep the conservatory to a minimum temperature of approximately 10 degrees Celsius, or whether not to heat it at all. This decision will affect the type of plants that you can grow. If you choose the first option, to heat the room like other rooms in the home, it will be more difficult to keep plants at their prime as the atmosphere will be dry. It will be more comfortable for you and your family, however, meaning that it will be a more usable space. Opt for palms, aloes and olives if you decide to keep your conservatory heated.
At the other end of the scale, unheated conservatories may prove too cold for you and your family to use in the winter, but it will be useful for overwintering hardier citrus plants, such as lemons and grapefruit. Other more exotic plants which may thrive with some added fleece and enough heat radiating from the adjacent house wall, include pomegranates, avocados, clivias and mandevillas, especially if they are kept fairly dry when it is cooler.
For a win-win situation, it’s probably best to opt for the middle option and keep the conservatory heated to around 10 degrees Celsius in order to grow a wide range of plants, such as cordylines, aspidistras, tibouchinas and some succulents. A room at this temperature may not be usable by the family throughout the whole year, so it is likely that there will be fewer soft furnishings, allowing more space for plants. At this temperature, the conservatory could prove useful as a greenhouse in the winter months, allowing you to grow vegetables and half-hardy annuals.
Whichever type of “conservatory-climate” you go for choose plants and containers that will complement the rest of the colour scheme in the room. Don’t be afraid to choose eye-level and taller plants as they will help to expand the space. Some plants will grow extremely quickly in a sheltered environment, so be prepared to cut them back.
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