Greenhouses, Conservatories and Sunhouses

Greenhouses, conservatories and sunhouses in many ways are close relatives and although each has its own particular forte and no one can entirely substitute for any other, there is a large area of overlap.

While for a large garden it may be possible to enjoy the luxury of all three, in the limited space of smaller plots, where perhaps it will be possible to site only one, it becomes much more important to understand the particular strengths and benefits of each. In either case, however, understanding the qualities and opportunities each can offer brings wider opportunities to any gardener looking to grow under glass.


Alongside a shed, the greenhouse is the traditional addition to any enthusiastic grower’s garden and being readily available in a wide array of styles, sizes and materials, there is one to suit every need and every pocket. They bring a range of benefits to both the garden and the gardener – not least the ability to grow a far greater range of plants than would have been possible otherwise.

Once, the only choice was between apex (or span) -roofed greenhouses and lean-tos, but many alternative designs have emerged, including pyramidal, circular and geodesic domes. Despite these modern advances, however, the apex-roofed greenhouse remains the most popular kind of free-standing glasshouse and offers the greatest possible flexibility when it comes to growing plants. Most garden centres and DIY stores offer self-assembly versions of this general design which are ideal for most gardeners.


Adding a conservatory to your home has become a much more commonplace – and affordable – thing to do, so now, almost any house can benefit from one, although it is usually a job for the professionals to install one. Historically, conservatories were very similar to greenhouses, complete with staging and heating pipes.

Modern conservatories have more in common with the old-style “sun-lounges”, being much more light and airy than their earlier namesakes, being principally designed for sitting in, with the added potential for growing a few well chosen warm-loving plants principally for decoration.

For many households, the conservatory is essentially an extension of the house, so any temptation to create over-crowding by cramming in too many plants needs to be avoided. However, having a conservatory is a great opportunity to experiment with hanging baskets filled with exotic plants – so even if space dictates that the conservatory is the only glassy outdoor building you ever have, there is still plenty of chance for you to be creative.

Summer Houses

While conservatories and greenhouses tend to have a year-round role, the summer house really only comes into its own in the summer. Although they can accommodate plants, generally this forms a subsidiary function for these buildings, which are typically more about providing an extra outdoor room.

A wide range of styles are available for DIY-construction, in a variety of sizes and, particularly in the small garden, summer houses can offer much of the versatility of a true conservatory, in a smaller footprint and often at a lower cost.

Of course, the ideal solution would be to have a greenhouse, a conservatory and a summer house to get the best out of each, but the reality is that this is not always possible. With a bit of careful thought, however, about how we really want to use our garden, even if we have to pick just one of them, we can make the right choice and then enjoy it to the full.