Houseplants to explore in our conservatories and glasshouses

As houseplants enjoy a renaissance, there’s never been a better time to get indoor plant inspiration from National Trust gardens.

Conservatories, orangeries and glasshouses across the country are packed full of tender plants, ranging from historically significant collections to new houseplant introductions.

Many National Trust gardeners are houseplant enthusiasts. They are constantly on the lookout for rare and unusual plants, alongside more familiar ones, arranging them in creative displays. From the smallest succulent to the largest cactus, there’s something for everyone to enjoy and spadefuls of horticultural inspiration and ideas for your own houseplant collection. Here we look at some of the best.

The ball cactus, Parodia magnifica, has a blue-green hue and bright yellow flowers. From the large collection of cacti at Dyffryn in the Vale of Glamorgan

Dyffryn, Vale of Glamorgan 

The long glasshouse at Dyffryn was home to Reginald Cory’s important collection of tender plants. It was rebuilt in 2011 on the footprint of the Edwardian original and is heated all winter. The cactus house features prickly pears and many mammillaria cacti alongside aloes, agaves and other succulents. The orchid house is a steamy, tropical paradise, home to bromeliads, begonias, orchids and tender ferns. Some of the glasshouse specimens are huge but many can be kept as small houseplants.

" You can treat cacti and agaves as you would bonsai. Controlling their growth will keep them small enough to stay as houseplants. "
- Hazel Robinson, Senior Gardener, Dyffryn, Vale of Glamorgan
The view inside the Orchid House at Kingston Lacy in Dorset

Kingston Lacy, Dorset 

The large range of glasshouses at Kingston Lacy in Dorset were part of the Kitchen Garden, created by Walter Ralph Bankes, who inherited the estate in 1869. More than just productive, these were home to many exotic plants. The recently restored Orchid House was originally designed for growing melons and cucumbers but now features many of the orchids available in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. These were among the favourite plants of Henrietta Bankes, Walter's wife and a plant enthusiast.

Inside the conservatory at Monk's House in East Sussex is an array of houseplants, large and small

Monk's House, East Sussex 

Leonard Woolf kept an impressive collection of cacti and succulents at Monk’s House in East Sussex, the country home he shared with his wife Virginia. His collecting spanned nearly 30 years, until his death in 1969. Leonard kept extensive lists and notes, including dates of purchases and when each plant flowered. These have been invaluable in tracking down some of the rarer plants he once owned. Originally kept in a dedicated cacti house, since lost, the collection is now housed in the conservatory, alongside other tender plants.

Lithops, known as living stones, are low maintenance houseplants and flourish in the conservatory at Overbeck's in Devon

Overbeck's, Devon 

Overbeck’s is home to a diverse collection of houseplants. The lean-to conservatory is full of sun-loving succulents and cacti, such as the trailing string of beads and string of hearts. The small conservatory in the Banana Garden houses many air plants. Branches covered with lichen are draped with Spanish moss, mimicking how these plants grow in the wild. Alongside are Kokedama, a form of Japanese bonsai, in which plants are suspended in moss-covered balls.

The orangery at Peckover in Cambridgeshire is full of interesting tender plants

Peckover House, Cambridgeshire 

Inside the Orangery at Peckover are displays of pelargoniums, fuchsias, aspidistras and ferns, all popular Victorian plants. Spider plants, peace lilies, abutilons, Swiss cheese plants and aloes in the main display are enhanced with many flowering plants. The heated Orangery is open during winter - the best time to see the 300 year-old orange trees in full fruit. Their flowers soon follow, filling the air with heady fragrance.

A close-up of one of the exotic flowers of the glory lily (Gloriosa). This summer-flowering plant thrives in the conservatory at Standen

Standen, West Sussex 

Head Gardener James Masters is a houseplant rescuer, finding homes for abandoned and neglected plants in the conservatory at Standen in West Sussex. Adoptees include a Swiss cheese plant that has been trained towards the roof to provide summer shade. Cacti thrive and are a favourite with children. Flowering plants change with the seasons; Christmas cactus bloom in winter, followed by clivias in spring and later pelargoniums and the glory lily in summer. Not all the plants are recent introductions; a hare's foot fern has been growing in the soil borders for over 100 years.

Pelargoniums being cared for in the greenhouses today

Stourhead, Wiltshire 

Sir Richard Colt Hoare was one of the most important pelargonium collectors and breeders of his day. By 1821, he owned over 600 varieties and his collection was considered in his lifetime to be the ‘finest in the country’. Today, Stourhead’s collection contains many of the pelargoniums which Sir Richard either bought or bred, including the night-scented P. triste, the pelargonium which John Tradescant introduced to the UK in 1631.

Wallington's conservatory is packed with tender plants, providing plenty of houseplant inspiration

Wallington, Northumberland 

The conservatory at Wallington was the Trevelyan family’s winter garden. The current glasshouse, erected in 1908, features a lemon verbena by the door. The family loved it so much, they built the new glasshouse around it. Scented and colourful plants fill the conservatory, even in winter. Cyclamen and forced bulbs flower alongside tender jasmine and fairy primroses which make perfect winter and early spring houseplants. More unusual plants include the bird of paradise flower.

Palm House

Discover our best conservatories, glasshouses and orangeries in the Midlands 

To nurture exotic plants and flowers, or sometimes just to grow more food, many of the places in our care have made use of glasshouses, orangeries or conservatories.

A row of small cacti in cups along the sash window in the kitchen at The Hardmans' House, 59 Rodney Street, Liverpool

Potted history of houseplants in our houses and collections 

The fashion for greening our interiors and filling them with plants and natural fragrances is nothing new. Discover the history of houseplants through objects in our collections and in National Trust houses and gardens across the country.