The changing fortunes of Kedleston’s Orangery
Not many visitors to Kedleston realise that the chunky orangery in the garden is actually facing due east. It catches a glimpse of the morning sun, but for most of the day it is dark and damp. As any keen gardener will know, it’s not the best idea to have a greenhouse in the shade, but this is what we have at Kedleston.
To understand how this has happened, we have to go back nearly a hundred years, to 1920. Only five years before his death, Lord Curzon (the former Viceroy of India) started a large project in the garden to transform it according to the most up-to-date fashions of the time.
The garden was first laid out in the mid-eighteenth century as part of the vision Nathaniel Curzon, first Baron Scarsdale, had for Kedleston. At that time, he removed all traces of formality and instead, he and his wife Caroline created a pleasure garden with flowering shrubs, meandering paths, symbolic statues, and later also two buildings: a greenhouse (or orangery) and a small temple. Both were built in c. 1800.
The buildings were probably designed by a former employee of Robert Adam’s architectural practice, George Richardson. Kedleston was one of Richardson’s earliest commissions and he gratefully dedicated his Book of ceilings to the first Lord Scarsdale.
The greenhouse had an underground heating system and large windows to make the most of the winter sun. From an inventory made after Lord Scarsdale’s death in 1804, we learn that the building contained several orange and lemon trees.
A few years later, his son brought in a great number of smaller flowering plants. He also glazed the roof. This would have let in much more light and heat.
In the early twentieth century, when Lord Curzon became actively involved in Kedleston’s maintenance, the buildings were in urgent need of repair. Curzon felt that the informality of the garden was an inappropriate setting for the Hall. As part of his plans to ‘formalise’ the garden, the two buildings were moved from their original locations to where they are now.
Where before the orangery was facing south-east, ideal for overwintering oranges, myrtles and other exotic plants and flowers, in 1920 it was moved and now faces east. Much of the original building was lost during the move and replaced with concrete, in that time seen as a solid and durable material. The greenhouse also lost its underground heating system, and more importantly its sloping roof.
The concrete is now failing and we’ve had to close the building for safety reasons. Some time ago, we also had to remove from the area a large number of shrubs that are vulnerable to Phytophthora. This has given us an opportunity to think about the future of the building and the garden as a whole. A team of specialists are busy behind the scenes working on the options.
And who knows, perhaps one day we may be able to grow oranges again...