The orangery originated from the Renaissance gardens of Italy, when glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced. Similar to a greenhouse in function, but styled more like a classic conservatory, their main task was providing delicate, exotic plants with shelter and protection beyond that of a brick fruit wall. The name therefore reflects the original use of the building as a place where citrus trees were often wintered in tubs under cover, so that they could survive through harsh frosts.
Typically, early orangeries were constructed with bases and pillars made from brick or stone, with large panes of glass to let in light and warmth. Often they utilised an existing garden wall but as they became more popular their construction was increasingly influenced by designers and architects. This then led to the connection between the house and architectural orangery design.
Before this, however, in order to maximise heat and light within the orangery, most often they were built south-facing, with the north facing wall constructed from brick (or using the existing garden wall) to help retain heat. Straw was originally used as insulation, with some orangeries in northern Europe using open fires or stoves to produce enough heat for the plants.
Becoming popular in the 17th century, orangeries emerged first in Europe in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. This was down to the merchants, who began importing large numbers of exotic plants such as orange trees, banana plants, and pomegranates to these European port countries. Not being native, these plants needed protection from the colder, harsher European climate – hence the development of the orangery.
However, they were not affordable to everyone. Being made of large amounts of expensive glass, and as homes to exotic plants, orangeries were usually found in the gardens and grounds of wealthy, fashionable residences. This soon created a situation where orangeries became symbols of status among the wealthy. Often they were a feature of the garden, in the same way as a summerhouse, folly or “Grecian temple”; owners would conduct their guests there on tours of the garden to admire not only the fruits but the architecture too. Often the orangery would contain fountains, grottos, and an area in which to entertain in inclement weather.
Today, orangeries are used less for wintering tropical plants, and more as additional living space within the home which unifies the boundary of the garden and the inside. Retaining classic features such as a solid base and pillars, along with expanses of glass, orangeries are usually designed to blend seamlessly with the original building, opening it up and letting light flood into the house.