While doing research at the Wellington archives in Chichester, Vicky and I were able to steal a day at Arundel Castle. We began our visit in the gardens and, really, no further words are necessary.

Would you like to see Arundel Castle for yourself? We’ll be returning to the Castle on Number One London’s 2020 Regency Tour – complete itinerary and details can be found here.




We’re looking forward to our Scottish Retreat in September and thinking about our upcoming visit to Glamis Castle, a site that is steeped in history. Glamis (above) has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and birthplace of HRH The Princess Margaret.

While the Castle has been used in the past as a stronghold, a barrack and a hospital, Glamis is first and foremost a beloved family home, as these pictures of the interiors attest, many of which we’ll be seeing during our guided tour of the Castle –





Unsurprisingly, many legends surround the Castle, most notably that of the “Monster of Glamis,” a hideously deformed heir who was hidden away in a secret room for life. Then there’s the stubborn bloodstain that cannot be removed from the floorboards in one of the castle rooms, said to be the blood of King Malcolm II, who was cut down by the Claymore swords of his rebellious subjects in the castle in 1084, and the tale of the Ogilvies, neighboring aristocrats who came to Glamis and begged for protection from their sworn enemies, the Lindsay family. The Ogilvies were escorted to a chamber under the castle and left there without food or water for over a month. When the chamber was opened, only one of the Ogilvies was barely alive. Rumour goes that their skulls are still kept in yet another secret chamber within the Castle.

While every Castle needs a good legend, or three, I prefer the real life story of the bravery of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who visited Glamis often throughout her lifetime.

From the Castle website – “During the First World War Glamis Castle became a convalescent hospital. Lady Elizabeth’s kindness won her the hearts of many of the soldiers who passed through Glamis. On 16th September 1916 two soldiers discovered a fire in a room under the castle roof. As they ran to raise the alarm, the first person they came across was Lady Elizabeth who showed great presence of mind and immediately telephoned both the local and Dundee fire brigades. She then marshalled everyone to fight the fire, organising a chain to convey buckets of water from the river. Later, with the fire raging above them, she organised the removal of the valuables out onto the Lawn. In 1918 the armistice signalled the end of the war and the end of an era. Once the last soldier had left Glamis in 1919 Lady Elizabeth was launched into the high society of the day at her coming out party.”

Outside, you’ll find the walled and the Italian gardens.


During the Scottish Retreat in September, we’ll be staying at Gargunnock House, a classic example of the gentleman’s shooting box, complete with open fires, flagstone floors, period details, spiraling staircases and Georgian furnishings.



Being a period property, Gargunnock House has a limited number of bedrooms and there are only 5 spaces left on the tour.

Visit our website for dates and complete itinerary.


With this post we’re instituting Once Again Wednesdays, whereby we republish some of our most popular posts and reader favourites.

What is an Orangery? by Victoria Hinshaw – Originally published in April 2010

Since the first purposeful cultivation of plants, humankind has struggled to improve growing conditions by altering the environment. For the plant to thrive, is it too cold? Too dark? Too rainy? Too arid? Too windy? How can the plant’s living arrangements be improved to give it maximum light, water, air circulation and fertility? How can we improve on Mother Nature?

Below, inside the Orangery at Saltram House, Plymouth, Devon.

Today we take for granted the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers in computer-monitored locations that bring us year-round production, the result of centuries of experimentation and invention. Two hundred years ago, our ancestors knew what was needed for maximum production, and they were quickly developing the technological requirements for success.

To some extent, the terms greenhouse, glasshouse, hothouse, orangerie, pinery, and conservatory can be used interchangeably, though each has a generally agreed upon specific meaning. All these terms and the buildings they describe existed in Georgian England, mostly at royal palaces and the estates of the wealthy aristocracy. 

The Regency era, whether one confines the definition strictly to 1811-1820 or, more broadly, the French Revolution to Victoria 1789-1837, was truly a time of transition in enhanced plant cultivation indoors.

At Carlton House, the Prince of Wales’ London residence (demolished in 1826-27), a conservatory was added in 1807 in the newest construction techniques in cast iron columns and a fan vaulted ceiling supporting large glass spaces. The architect was Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) whose work was considered a tour de force. The conservatory opened into the gardens at one end. If one looked in the opposite direction, there was a clear view of the entire lower ground-floor range of rooms.

The Carlton House conservatory was intentionally theatrical, as some writers observed, bringing the term “elaborate” to a new level. The Prince Regent planned a great fete for 2,000 people on June 19, 1811, to celebrate his Regency. Down the middle of the 200-foot length of the table ran a curving stream of water lined with flowers, mossy banks and crossed by miniature bridges. Goldfish swam up and down this tiny stream. Here is the account by John Ashton in Social England Under the Regency (1895) of the Prince Regent’s conservatory and the party: “…the architecture of it is of the most delicate Gothic. …In the front of the Regent’s seat there was a circular basin of water, with an enriched Temple in the centre of it, from whence there was a meandering stream to the bottom of the table, bordered with green banks. Three or four fantastic bridges were thrown over it, one of them with a small tower upon it, which gave the little stream a picturesque appearance. It contained also a number of gold and silver fish. The excellence of design, and exquisiteness of workmanship could not be exceeded; it exhibited a grandeur beyond description; while the many and various purposes for which gold and silver materials were used were equally beautiful and superb in all their minute detail.”

Existing watercolors of the conservatory by Charles Wild (1781-1835), who painted many views of Carlton House, do not show any plants placed to take advantage of the overhead light provided by the glass and iron fan vaulting. These watercolours were published by Rudolph Ackermann in his Repositories of the Arts, beginning in October 1819. The watercolors of Carlton House and other royal residences were re-issued in 1984 by The Vendome Press, ISBN 0-86565-048-9. In Regency Design, however, Steven Parissien shows a view of the Prince Regent’s conservatory with extensive planting along the sides p. 218; also in Morley, p. 787). He also notes that the structure leaked badly and quotes Nash in 1822, “the glazed vaulting was ‘worse than useless as a roof’ and recommended replacing it with plaster.” Leaks or no leaks, Prinny’s conservatory was, as he wished, a trend-setter.

The fanciful orangery at Sezincote, in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, inspiration for the Brighton Pavilion. Visit Sezincote.

A more modest conservatory was built by the renowned regency architect Sir John Soane at his country home Pitshanger Manor, in Ealing, a suburb of London. Mavis Batey writes, “The breakfast room opened on to a conservatory, which ran the length of the building, with sash windows to the floor, partly of coloured glass. Soane described it as ‘enriched with antique cinerary urns, sepulchral vases, statues…vines and odiferous plants; the whole producing a succession of beautiful effects, particularly when seen by moonlight, or when illuminated and the lawn enriched with company enjoying the delights of cheerful society.'” Despite the difference in scale, it is clear that the conservatories at Carlton House and Pitshanger Manor shared a common element: they were used for entertainment and socializing.

Greenhouses have ancient sources. The Romans, adept at channeling the waters and building for maximum comfort, had many schemes to enhance growing conditions for plants of all kinds. The Roman emperor Tiberius had a sort of greenhouse, called a Specularium, created with mica in small translucent flakes where we would today have glass. Tiberius, it is reported, needed a year-round supply of his favorite food: cucumbers! Further developments in specularia included ducts carrying hot water or cool air, typical of Roman engineering. Among the plants grown in these mica-roofed structures were grapes, peaches and roses.

Orangeries can be seen at many English country houses and on the grounds of several royal palaces im Britain, as well as throughout Europe. Below, the orangery at Belton House, Lincolnshire

A primary motivation for the improvement of greenhouse design was the English penchant for the collection and study of botanic material from all over the globe. The earliest explorers brought back seeds and exotic species. The damp, chill English climate needed some alteration if these new species were to survive and flourish.

Kew Gardens (officially the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew) originally belonged to the royal family. Frederick, Prince of Wales, (son of George II and father of George III) and his wife, Princess Augusta, had a great interest in exotic plants. Their collection is the core of today’s 40,000 varieties of plants at Kew. None of Kew’s hothouses survive from the Georgian period. One regency-era building, the Nash Conservatory, was built at Buckingham Palace in the design of a Greek temple; it was moved to Kew in 1836. Recently fully restored, the Nash Conservatory is used now as a school education center.

By the middle of the 19th century, the popularity of greenhouses had grown exponentially. What’s more, materials became less expensive and more readily available, so greenhouses and growing plants under glass were no longer a pastime only of the wealthy. Small greenhouses and conservatories of many designs were added to middle class Victorian houses. There was also competition by cities and countries to build conservatories as part of grand public parks. These housed exotic, non-native plants as well as common varieties, and remain popular today.

One of the most famous glass buildings in the world was the Crystal Palace, built in London in 1850-51 for the Great Exhibition. Chief architect was Joseph Paxton (1803-65), former gardener to the sixth Duke of Devonshire (the Bachelor Duke). It contained all kinds of exhibits, not only plants. Nonetheless, the design of the Crystal Palace influenced decades worth of greenhouses and conservatories, including the many you can order for your home today.

For her help in finding some interesting sources on this subject, special thanks to Jo Manning.
Among the sources used for this post are:
Batey, Mavis, Regency Gardens, Shire Garden History, 1995, ISBN 0-7478-0289-0.
Hobhouse, Penelope, Gardening Through the Ages, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992, ISBN 0-671-72887-3.
Parissien, Steven, Regency Style, Washington, D. C.: The Preservation Press, 1992, ISBN 0-89133-172-7
Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow, Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 2001, ISBN 0-8109-4253-4.

Naturalist's Diary for March

From the Times Telescope, an annual almanac, here is the entry for March, 1826, with a few quite optimistic pictures:

March, though the hours of promise with bright ray

May gild thy noons, yet, on wild pinion borne,
Loud winds more often rudely wake thy morn,
And harshly hymn they early-closing day.

            The cutting blasts of March, so trying to the invalid, are equally injurious to the progress of vegetation; and the ‘sweet flowers’ are compelled to await the smiles and tears of gentle April to encourage their growth, and to bring them to perfection. Some more bold than the rest, who dare to brave the warrior front of Boreas, often perish in his chilly embrace. The winds of March, however, are highly beneficial to drying up the superabundant moisture of the earth; and although they may retard the delights and beauties of Spring, these are rendered more valuable to us, because they are less fugacious.

            The russet-brown dress of the hedges is now spotted with green, preparatory to their assuming the complete vesture of Spring.—The leaves of the lilac begin to peep from beneath their winter clothing, and gooseberry and currant trees display their verdant foliage and pretty green blossoms. The yew-tree, ‘faithful in death,’ as it protects our tombs from the gaze of every passing stranger, when our more gaudy floral acquaintances have deserted us, opens its blossoms about the beginning of this month.

            The melody of birds now gradually swells upon the ear. The throstle, second only to the nightingale in song, charms us with the sweetness, and variety of its lays. The linnet and goldfinch join the general concert in this month, and the golden-crowned wren begins its song. The lark also, must not be forgotten.—While the birds delight us with their song, the bees read us a lesson of industry, for they are to be seen collecting materials for their elegant condiment of honey on every fine day throughout the year.

            Each succeeding week pours forth fresh beauties from the lap of Flora, and furnishes the botanist with new sources of delight. Golden tufts of crocuses, expending their corollas to receive the genial warmth of the sun, interspersed with pink and blue hepaticas, and the garden daisy, with its little tufts of crimson velvet, united with the blossoms of last month, greatly ornament our flower borders. The alpine wall-cress is still in bloom; the mezereon puts forth its leaves; and the primrose peeps from the retreating snows of winter: it forms a happy shade of distinction between the delicate snowdrop and the flaming crocus.

            Daffodils, yellow auriculas, coltsfoot, with its brilliant golden and sometimes pink or silvery stars, and hounds-tongue, are in blossom about the middle of the month. The American cowslip, with its beautiful rose-coloured blossoms, growing in thick branches in the form of a cone, flowers in March. The charming violet, whose attractions have been the theme of many a poetic effusion, makes her appearance this month, but not in full perfection, for the chill winds of March are not very congenial to the expansion of so delicate a blossom.

            If the weather be mild, the rich hyacinth, the noble descendant of the modest harebell—the sweet narcissus, delicately pale, and some of the early tulips, are now in bloom. The peach and the nectarine begin to show their elegant blossoms.

            Protected from inclemency of the weather by our green-houses, roses, hyacinths, heliotropes, and geraniums, are now in full blossom, regaling the senses with their varied hues and rich perfumes.

            In this month, black ants are observed; the black-bird and the turkey law; the house pigeons sit. The greenfinch sings; the bat is seen flitting about; and the viper uncoils itself from its winter sleep. The wheatear, or English ortolan (Sylvia oenanthe) again pays its annual visit, leaving England in September. Those birds which have passed the winter in England now take their departure for more northerly regions; as the fieldfare, the red-wing, and the wood-cock.

            On the 20th, the vernal equinox takes place, and all nature feels her renovating sway, and seems to rejoice at the retreat of winter.

            The general or great flow of sap in most trees takes place in this month; this is preparatory to the expanding of the leaves and ceases when they are out. The ash now puts forth its grey buds; and the hazel and willow exhibit some signs of returning life in their silky, enfolding catkins. The leaves of the thornless rose and of the hawthorn are gradually becoming determinate. The field daisy is now seen scattered over dry pastures. This pretty flower, the poet’s darling, from Chaucer to Wordsworth and Montgomery, has claimed for itself many an elegant tribute.

            The planting and sowing of Forest Trees is generally concluded in this month. The mixing of fir-trees with oaks (except in very sheltered situations) is now frequently adopted by the planter.

            In March, trouts begin to rise, and blood worms appear in the water. The clay hair worms is found at the bottom of the drains and ditches, and the water-flea may be seen gliding about upon the surface of sheltered pools. Bats now issue from their places of concealment. Peas appear above ground; the sea-kale (Crambe maritima) begins to sprout. The male blossoms of the yew-tree expand and discharge their farina. Sparrows are busily employed in forming their nests. Young otters are produced, and young lambs are yeaned this month.

            The equinoctial gales are usually most felt, both by sea and land, about this time.

            The brimstone-coloured butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) which lives throughout the winter, is usually seen in March. It is found in the neighbourhood woods, on fine and warm days, enjoying the beams of the noonday sun. Some of our most beautiful butterflies, belonging to the genus Vanessa, as V. atalanta, Io, Polylcholoros, and Urticae, are seen in this month; and the Antiopa, or Camberwell beauty, has once been captured at this season.

Victoria in England 2011

Penshurst Place, Kent

Yes, both Kristine and I confess we are unrepentant when it comes to spending our time and money on trips across the pond to England.  Many of you do the same.  We work hard to book ourselves into a variety of cities and London neighborhoods,  lots of museums and other historic attractions, gardens for wandering, evenings in the theatre or concert hall, and wonderful meals… and, believe it or not, time in libraries and archives.  My upcoming two weeks in England will be no different … castles, stately homes, gardens, museums, several different hotels…and archives at the University of Southampton and Hatfield House.
Upon our arrival in Dover, I hope we can visit Walmer Castle. We “did” Dover Castle a few years ago, and this time, I want to see the Duke of Wellington’s home when he was in residence as the Warden of the Cinque Ports, less than ten miles north along the Channel coast.

We have a stop planned at Penshurst Place, in which many centuries of British History are enveloped…as well as a great slice of architectural history. And stunning gardens, which I hope will be in full bloom in early June.

While we are in London, we want to re-visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, this year to see the Cult of Beauty exhibition, which comes highly recommended by Jo Manning and many others.
Last year, at the V and A, I enjoyed the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition, in which many of his treasures were reassembled and shown while the house itself was undergoing a thorough renovation.  This year, I intend to see the finished house, just a short train ride from London in Twickenham.

Next I head to Southampton to visit the Archives in Hartley Library at the University of Southampton.

And while I am in town, I will make time to see the sights, though I understand that the house in which Jane Austen once resided is long gone.  Parts of the city walls, however, still stand, and the famous port should be interesting to see. 

After a short stay in London again, I will go to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, to study diaries in their Archive. Hatfield has an amazing history and renowned gardens. I wrote about a previous visit to Hatfield on this blog, August 13 2010.

My final stop will be in Windsor, where I will visit the brand new Museum of Windsor and, if the stars are in perfect alignment, visit with our friend Hester Davenport, author of biographies of Mary Robinson and Fanny Burney, and an expert on Windsor history, among other achievements.

Then it will be time to fly home. And start planning the next trip (anticipation is more than half the fun). I will report more fully after I return, and perhaps, along the way.