The Rockwool Garden Room
The Rockwool Garden Room
The Rockwool Garden Room

Conservatories: What Next?

The Romans are believed to have been the first to build ‘conservatories’ to protect plants from weather extremes, using sheets of mica instead of glass to allow in light.

Conservatories – usually called orangeries - gained in popularity in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries when travellers returned from far-flung places with exotic, tropical potted plants and trees which needed a controlled environment to help them survive and develop.

Having a conservatory soon became another indicator of social status and wealth, especially when they were grand enough to be used as entertainment areas in their own right, attached to the main property.

These days, more than 150,000 conservatories a year are added to houses in the UK  but many homeowners underestimate the cost – and environmental impact - of heating and cooling their glass extensions.

Maintaining a comfortable living temperature in many all-glass conservatories in winter can dramatically increase household fuel bills. If air conditioning units are used in summer, then energy costs can go through the roof. Despite design improvements, the energy inefficiencies of conservatories continues to cause concern to the Government, who had considered bringing more of them within the scope of Building Regulations. They are currently taking a fresh look at the whole domestic energy consumption issue.

For the Chelsea Flower Show 2006, award-winning architect and garden designer Barry Mayled is creating a more aesthetic, energy-efficient and practical alternative to the conservatory, a structure which also adds greater value to a property.

He has joined forces with Rockwool Ltd, the UK’s leading manufacturer of mineral wool insulation, to build the The Rockwool Garden Room, the main feature of a 150 square metre small Show Garden .

The Rockwool Garden Room, with its fully-glazed elevation to the garden, can be incorporated into a new house design or added to an existing property (for RHS display requirements, the roof over the first-floor balcony area has been removed).
It has the following features and advantages:

• A more permanent structure, increasing equity in the property
• A more energy-efficient room, conforming to Building Regulations
• A room which can be used comfortably all year round at lower cost
• A roof terrace above which provides additional garden space and leisure area
• A different perspective on the garden below and beyond
• A safe platform for house maintenance and an escape route in case of fire
• Shelter for an outdoor cooking and dining area below
Rockwool Ltd, based at Pencoed, South Wales, melts volcanic rock – one of the world’s most abundant natural resources - at 1500 deg.C and spins it into fibres to create material for a range of highly-effective insulation, acoustic and fire-protection applications.

By incorporating Rockwool products, including Rockfon ceiling tiles and Rockpanel wall insulation in the design, it is estimated the Rockwool Garden Room would consume less than half the energy of a standard, all-glass conservatory of similar dimensions and usage patterns.

Barry says “The popularity of the conservatory shows no signs of waning. It provides an relaxing transition between living rooms and the outside world. But there is a price to be paid, so we should look at the alternatives.”

Rockwool Ltd’s Managing Director, Brian Roberts, says “The Chelsea Flower Show has a worldwide audience. We are delighted to be associated with a beautiful garden design that encourages more people to think about how much energy we still waste and what can be done about it.”

The Garden

The three main elements of the Rockwool Garden Room are a contemporary garden, typical of a size found in many suburbs, the wall of a house and the Garden Room attached to it. All structures, including boundaries, are in white to provide a neutral backdrop to enhance the carpet of planting.

The paving is also neutral - cream limestone – as is the garden furniture, to avoid detracting from the delicate colours of blue, mauve, grey, green and peach in the planting plan. The symmetry of the garden provides a subtle contrast to the asymmetry of the Garden Room. 

Central to the garden is a circular pool with an inverted bowl spout being the focal point from all positions in the garden.  Around the pool is a rope pathway and at the rear is a modern seat in cast polished white stone, allowing a view back to the house. 

The subtle planting, decoration and hard landscaping reflect the sophisticated colour theme which begins inside the Garden Room and flows through the garden to a slightly elevated rear boundary of white, multi-stemmed betula pendula (silver birch) set against a backdrop of dark green cherry laurel.

The change in level is delineated by a low retaining wall of shining black washed anthracite, a handsome visual feature which contrasts well with the gentle planting colours surrounding and also acts as a reminder of our dwindling reserves of fossil fuels.

Between the pool and the rope pathway on either side are elliptical hedges of lavender. The side boundary wall is lit by modern helical lights which also double as pieces of sculpture in daylight hours. The paving pattern of the limestone terrace is radial, with its geometric centre being the centre of the circular pool. 

To the side of the terrace is an external dining and cooking area, shaded from the weather by the roof overhangs. The planting is structured in shades of blue, mauve, white and peach, as described in the planting schedules.