The Greenhouse

Rupert Goulding, Lead Curator, South West Region Rupert Goulding Lead Curator, South West Region

The Greenhouse lies at the heart of Dyrham Park both physically and emotionally. Now it looks out over parkland, but originally it faced the 17th century Best Garden, opposite a long canal and extravagant cascade, 250 steps high and crowned by the statue of Neptune.

Modern technology

A greenhouse was a substantial investment for house builder William Blathwayt. It was a large, well-made and technologically advanced building. In the vaults beneath the floor were once stoves to provide winter heat for delicate and tender plants. Vegetables were grown to extend their seasonal availability, but also fashionable Mediterranean citrus plants needing warmer conditions.

Delicate plants and summer relation

The Greenhouse was converted in the 19th century into an orangery, with glass roof for year-round planting. In the 17th century it had distinct winter and summer uses. When cold outside it was full of delicate plants on large shelving. In the summer the plants moved outside and the room became an enormous conservatory, with cane chairs and the walls decorated with 88 prints of maps and sculpture. Somewhat unusually the Greenhouse is physically attached to the main house and always had direct access from some of the best rooms.         

Political gardening

The Greenhouse had one more important function: it was an enormous political statement. It affirmed William Blathwayt’s support for King William III, the Dutch-born Prince of Orange. Running across the building is a motto: ‘servare modum, finemque tueri, naturamque sequi’. This is translated as ‘observe moderation, keep the end in view, follow the law of nature’. Good moral instruction for anyone who could read Latin.

Instructions for a prince

The words describe how to be a prince, and are based on an ancient Roman poem used in Blathwayt’s day by his former employer Sir William Temple. Temple was King William’s favourite statesman. By placing these words on a building designed for growing orange trees it was declaring loyalty to the king. Reinforcing this message was the statue of Neptune facing the Greenhouse. At this time Neptune was used to symbolise how William of Orange sailed across the English Channel to claim the British crown and save the country.