Expert opinion | 13th December 2021
Hot Stuff – the best botanical gardens with hot houses
You don’t have to be a green-fingered guru to appreciate a good hothouse – not just for the welcome blast of heat, but for the brilliant range of exotic plants which thrive in them.
We’ve got the lowdown on the best hot houses in the UK, all of which are open year-round and can be found inside spectacular botanical gardens. The best bit? They’re all within easy reach of a PoB Hotel.
© Kew Gardens
National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire
Images left to right: © National Botanic Garden of Wales; Visit Carmarthenshire
The National Botanic Garden of Wales’ Great Glasshouse is the largest single span glasshouse in the world. The plants you’ll see here – which come from California, Australia, the Canary Islands, Chile, South Africa and the Mediterranean Basin – all thrive in their respective, carefully controlled climate zones, whether it’s barren, rock-strewn landscapes or sandstone cliffs. Our favourite areas include the Mediterranean zone, filled with fragrant plants such as lavender and rosemary, and the Australia section, where you’ll find weird and wonderful plants such as the xanthorrhoea tree, used by aborigines to make spears and boomerangs. Make sure you check out the garden’s brilliant Apothecary Hall, too – step inside this replica of an Edwardian pharmacy to learn about the Edwardians’ love of using plants to make medicinal tinctures, syrups and powders.
Stay nearby at Grove of Narberth
RHS Gardens at Hyde Hall, Essex
© RHS Hyde Hall
The glasshouse at the RHS Gardens at Essex’s Hyde Hall might not be the largest, but it’s certainly one of the most beautiful – an ornamental hothouse in the centre of a circular garden divided into pizza slice-like sections dedicated to the Middle East, Asia, North and Central America, and South America. The entire glasshouse is dedicated to edible plants and has been designed to showcase species not typically found in the UK, whether it’s South American root crops such as yacón, or tiger nuts, famous for their coconut-like taste. Beyond the glasshouse, one of our favourite areas is the Winter Garden, where trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs provide bursts of colour during the gloomier months of the year.
Stay nearby at Talbooth House & Spa
Kew Gardens, London
© RBG Kew
Kew Gardens’ Temperate House is the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse, and it’s filled with some of the world’s rarest plants: 1,500 species from the Americas, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific Islands. The glasshouse’s species – all of which need temperatures of over 10°C to survive – include a bright yellow tree pincushion plant, grown from seeds collected in South Africa by Kew botanists in 1803, and the ruby red kaka beak, which is endemic to New Zealand and has leaves shaped like the beak of a parrot. Winter is one of the best times to visit Kew Gardens, where plants such as witch hazel and dogwood provide plenty of colour and evergreen shrubs such as sarcococca fill the air with heady scent.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham
© Chris Howell
Love a hot house? You’ll love Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which has a tropical house, a sub-tropical house, an arid house, an alpine house and a Mediterranean house. Our favourite is the Mediterranean house, which resembles a Victorian orangery and contains elaborate beds planted with a wide range of citrus fruits. There’s also plenty of colour, including a particularly dazzling display of pelargoniums (indoor geraniums). This is a garden which truly comes into its own in winter, when our favourite displays include the mimosas in the arid house, and the poinsettias in the subtropical house.
Stay nearby at Kilworth House Hotel
The Eden Project, Cornwall
© Paul Murphy
The Eden Project’s enormous, bubble-like rainforest and Mediterranean biomes contain thousands of species of plants, along with the largest indoor rainforest in the world. The plants in the rainforest dome are ones which thrive in temperatures of between 18 and 35°C, and a network of elevated walkways provide a brilliant perspective on the plant life, which includes everything from rubber trees and cacao to bananas and sugar cane. Keep an eye out for the resident roul-roul partridges, as well as the artwork, which includes beautiful murals by Peruvian herbalists. In the Mediterranean biome, which has a year-round temperature of between 9 and 25°C, highlights include a forest of ancient olive trees and cork oaks – one of the few trees which can regenerate its bark. Thrill seekers will love the Eden Project’s zip line, too.
Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, Devon
© Bicton Park
Proof that the best things come in small packages, Bicton Park, which opened in 1739, is an often-overlooked botanical garden with four beautiful glasshouses. The highlight is the Palm House, which was built in the 1820s and features 18,000 glass panes separated by iron glazing bars. It’s 20 years older than the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and one of the earliest examples of an iron-framed glasshouse. We’re also huge fans of the Tropical House, home to the Bicton orchid (Lemboglossum bictoniense), which is named after the gardens and first bloomed in 1836. Make sure you squeeze in a ride on Bicton Woodland Railway – a narrow gauge railway which passes through the gardens’ pinetum (an arboretum of pine trees).
Stay nearby at Bovey Castle
RHS Wisley, Surrey
© RHS Wisley
RHS Wisley’s glorious glasshouse was built to honour the bicentenary of the RHS. And it’s a worthy tribute – a cathedral-like structure covering a space which is equivalent to 10 tennis courts. A fun fact? The tempered glass exterior weighs a staggering 10 tonnes. It’s also an incredibly hi-tech hot house, with a computer system which allows the temperature and ventilation to be tweaked by tiny increments. The glasshouse’s temperate, arid and tropical zones contain a total of 6,000 plant species, and it’s the seriously steamy tropical zone we recommend checking out in the depths of winter – the temperature never falls below 20°C, allowing plants such as bananas, bromeliads, palm trees and fast-growing climbers to thrive. Elsewhere, don’t miss Wisley’s Herons Bonsai Walk, where you’ll find neat rows of sturdy bonsais, some of which are 80 years old.
Article written by Tamara Hinson