At Gravetye, the owners are extremely sympathetic and respectful of William Robinson’s vision and when it came to restoring the glasshouses at the nursery on site, it was important to honor the architecture of Robinson’s times. This is where Simon went to work, the highly skilled man behind the well crafted restoration of these buildings that are so rooted in the history here. Watching him transform these treasures was a sight and I became intrigued in the work that was being done, and how he found his passion and niche in Victorian Glasshouse Restoration. He was kind enough to agree to let us into his world for 5-10-5 , consisting of 5 background, 10 work, and 5 random questions.
Hello and can you introduce yourself?
Hello. I am Simon Harrison of The Victorian Glasshouse Company LTD
The arts or horticulture? Horticulture
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background…
I have lived in West Sussex for most of my life and had no idea of a career, even after university. I started gardening and progressed to landscape gardening and was offered a glasshouse which was awaiting demolition near us and that was the start of my love of glasshouses. My parents were a great influence, they were very keen and knowledgeable gardeners with a large garden and I used to help them. They gave me a lot of encouragement. My father had a high-pressure job and used to disappear into the garden and immerse himself in it – the perfect therapy.
Do you remember your first gardening memory?
I was about three years old and we drove down to see the new house my parents had just purchased and I fell in the pond! There was an orchard and we had Geese.
How did you get interested in Victorian Glasshouses?
The first glasshouse I rescued, it had the most beautiful curvilinear design. I was still landscaping at the time and I put it into storage for about 6 years before I restored and sold it.
What does a typical day consist of?
There is no typical day, I may be in the workshop or I may be on site somewhere in the south of England.
How would you describe your typical client?
Generally the only common thread running through my clients is that they want a traditional wooden glasshouse and that they want theirs restored or a traditional one sourced. Plastic and aluminium is an entirely different market.
Can you tell us some information about the glasshouses at Gravetye that you have been restoring & what makes them special…
– The span houses are designed as forcing houses which with sashes and stone sides they are efficient at retaining the heat.
– The Peach House is actually a Vine House and has an exceptionally long span, so much so that we installed a purlin to help with the load bearing. Unusually there is no ironwork, which in the case of Richardson & Co. was quite ornate and we found no evidence that there has been any.
Do you have a glasshouse yourself and what do you grow?
I have a span house and grow pelargoniums, it also doubles up as a dining room at Christmas time.
How and where do you research period details?
The Internet, manufacturers catalogues and from the records I have compiled over the years.
What is a prime example of a Victorian Glasshouse in a public garden?
What do you feel modern glasshouses lack?
You can’t get the same character using plastic or aluminium, the sections are much narrower and don’ t have the correct proportion. Wood and cast iron are the ideal combination.
What is the difference a show house and a display house?
They are basically the same.
Now that you have been restoring Victorian glasshouses for 23 years, what project has been your favorite so far?
I can’ t really say I have had a favourite as each one has been different and I have worked in some wonderful settings of which Gravetye (above) has been one of the best. I did one on the Gower Peninsula in Wales about 4 years ago and the setting was truly stunning.
What specific sources of creative inspiration do you often turn to?
What garden, private or public, inspires you?
West Dean Gardens (see above) near Chichester and Parham House and Gardens at Storrington.
What would be your desert island plant and piece of art be?
An Ipomoea convolvulus and a finely detailed spandrel bracket.
Building a larger glasshouse for ourselves if we ever move again!
And what grain of wisdom can you proffer to readers interested in gardening and the natural world?
Always be aware of what is around you and take in the seasons as they change around you, there is always beauty even in the depths of winter.
Thank you Simon, it was a pleasure to interview you and have a chance to see into your world.
For more of Simon’s work and information please visit The Victorian Glasshouse Company Limited