Plants displayed in a conservatory.

What Plants to Put in Your Conservatory

The conservatory offers an opportunity to create an environment for both plants and people. Sunrooms and solariums also make perfect places for growing plants, and even screened-in porches can suit many plants at various times of the year.

There is so much more light in conservatories and sunrooms than the average room inside the home and, as long as the conserva­tory does net get too hot in summer, it will have good humidity and be the ideal place for many plants to thrive.

Plants like plumbago, passion flower, jasmine, and abutilon will flourish in the cool and humid conditions of a correctly situated conservatory, and others, such as pot hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) or primulas (Primula obconica), that last only a short time inside the house will thrive for many weeks. Conservatories offer the chance to create somewhere quite different from the house or garden for growing plants.

The position of your conservatory is of the utmost importance if you want to fill it with lots of plants, as well as provide extra living space. A conservatory that is situated on a south-facing wall will become its own desert in summer and no plants will be happy there. A south-facing conservatory or sun- room may be comfortable in winter when the sun is weak, but in summer temperatures can soar to 100°F (3(°C), making it a hostile place for both people and plants.

Whatever aspect, ceiling ventilation is essential. Side ventilation cannot create the same buoyancy of atmosphere. You must also supply adequate shading with Venetian blinds or shades in summer.

If your conservatory has a solid wall, this is an ideal place to fix trellis or wires for climbing plants. Try and display your plants at different heights to give a natural growing environment — a tiered plant stand is ideal for this purpose, because it enables you to display several plants together. A shelf around the edge of the window makes a wonderful home for tall or trailing plants, which can either be trained to grow up in front of the window or hang down below the windowsill.

Most conservatories open directly onto the house and one of the joys of having such a room is the wonderful scent it provides when you open the doors in early summer. Scented plants, such as jasmine and trachelospermum, as well as those with aromatic foliage, like scented geraniums and the night-scented Cestrum nocturnurn, are a valuable addition in this still and warm environment that concentrates their heady scent. Exotic-looking lilies, such as Lilium regale or L. ‘Casa Blanca,’ are a must in summer, but be careful not to brush against the pollen-laden stamens, which can stain clothes. Your conservatory can become a magical green cave in summer with pots of many different plants. You could try growing some of the exotic, old-fashioned conservatory plants so favored by the Victorians, such as the poor man’s orchid (Schizanthus) or salpiglossis (Salpiglossis sinuata).

In winter, seasonal flowering plants, such as azaleas, cyclamen, and primulas, will flourish in a cool conservatory. In fact, they are often happier here than inside the house where the dry central heating can scorch their leaves and stunt their growth. If a cyclamen or azalea begins to look unhappy indoors, it will often revive completely if given a short spell in a cool conservatory. The con­servatory also provides sanctuary for some of the tender rhododendrons and camellias that like to spend the summer in a shady spot in the garden, but must be brought into a frost-free environment during the winter months.

It is important to grow a selection of green foliage plants in the conservatory, which will pro­vide all-year-round color and interest. Ivies and ferns are relatively trouble-free and can be planted in pots and moved around according to the season. Pots of leafy palms, both floor-standing specimens, such as the kentia or phoenix palm, and smaller varieties grouped on a table, add to the charm of many conservatories. And even “difficult” house- plants, like the maidenhair fern (Adianturn raddianum), will flourish in a conservatory where they have adequate humidity and light.