Let the Sun Shine In
Judi Russell Photographed by Cheryl Gerber
In New Orleans, we’re fortunate to have winters that are mild enough to permit many plants and grasses to grow year-round. But winter does take a toll on the landscape, leaving both our yards and our spirits a little droopy. One way to make sure you always have a bright, green spot to enjoy is to add a conservatory to your home. These rooms go by many names, such as sunrooms, Florida rooms, or glassed-in porches. All have one thing in common: they provide a safe haven for plants—and people—that like it warm and sunny all the time.
Modern conservatories are easier than ever to care for, says Renee Harkness, president of Spa ‘n Tub World. Many are made of glass that is self-cleaning; rainwater rinses it off. They are well insulated, which keeps them cooler in the summer. But their main selling point, she says, is the way they give homeowners a whole new way to enjoy their yards.
a warm refuge
Stephen and Kathy Clark added a conservatory to the back of their Metairie brick ranch house five years ago. During the warm months, they decorate the room with several potted plants, but when the weather turns chilly, the room fills up. “It’s a winter refuge for our plants,” says Stephen. The Clarks’ yard is filled with hibiscus, plum-bago, palms, pampas grass, bougainvillea and other lush plants. The conservatory is a great spot to sit under the ceiling fan and relax, Stephen says, and because it is filled with light, he can avoid the chore of taking plants in and out of the garage all winter. And the room’s tile floor means he can water plants without worrying about carpet stains.
In December, the Clarks put a very special plant in their conservatory: their Christmas tree. The room is a great place to hold a Christmas party, Stephen says. “It’s warm, bright, and filled with the colors of the season.”
keeping with tradition
Stephen Murray Jr., who lives in an 1856 Uptown home designed by famous archi-tect James Gallier, isn’t sure when his jewel- box conservatory was built on to the house. The room is small but beautiful, with French doors that open on to a fabulous courtyard and patio. The lush yard is filled with shrubs, potted plants, and a fountain, and decorated with wrought-iron furniture. Murray says it reminds him of the courtyard he had when he lived in the French Quarter. Murray and his fiancée, Fran Senior, use the conservatory as the entrance to the house, so they keep it decorated with fresh cut flowers as well as a tall palm tree.
adorning a conservatory
Sure, you could put African violets in your conservatory, garden experts say. But why settle for the ordinary when you can take advantage of the room’s bountiful light and protection from the cold to grow all kinds of tropical plants?
Beryl Deluzain of Old Metairie Plant Station says conservatories are the perfect place to grow tropical plants. These exotics can’t survive even a New Orleans winter, Deluzain says, but they can live indefinitely in a sunroom. Among her favorite conservatory plants are the cat palm, the adonidia palm, anthuriums, bromeliads, and Australian tree ferns. The rooms are also ideal for orchids, which she says are “ridiculously easy to grow.” Orchids like light and do need continuous feedings, Deluzain says. You should also check with a gardening professional to make sure your orchid is growing in the right medium, however.
Marisa Cutlip of The Plant Gallery says another good choice for a conservatory is the passion flower vine, which trails showy flowers. She also recommends orchids, cautioning homeowners not to overwater them. Cutlip also warns clients not to give up too soon on their orchids; the plants can take between six to nine months between blooming cycles, she says. You can also have a few kitchen herb plants in your sunroom, Cutlip says, providing easy access to seasonings when you cook. Small fruit trees are another possibility.
If you decide to add a conservatory to your home, one of the primary factors to consider is the type of glass. Glare and condensation are two problems that can occur with the wrong types of glass. The glass should also be strong enough to withstand storms and filter out the UV rays that can fade furniture fabric.
Conservatories can be furnished in a variety of styles. Stephen Murray Jr.’s Uptown conservatory is filled with a wrought-iron and glass set, perfect for holding drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The Clarks have filled their conservatory with furniture reminiscent of a Florida condominium complete with wind chimes. Ceiling fans complete the tropical look. •