People already practised greenhouse horticulture in ancient times. Some researchers even claim that the Chinese were skilled in this method of cultivation long before our year zero. Others claim that the first covered cultivation took place during Roman times. Greenhouse horticulture was, however, extremely limited in scale and was not widespread.
Real interest in greenhouse horticulture only took off during the Renaissance period, when the first orangeries were constructed in Europe. These orangeries were mainly found in courtyards and country estates. At that time, these orangeries generally comprised a stone house with a south-facing glass wall and a stove to heat the space during the cold winter months.
More light was needed in orangeries in the eighteenth century, which changed the look of this type of ‘greenhouse’. The stove was replaced with a central external fireplace and the vertical glass walls were assembled at an angle, proportionally increasing the glass surface and therefore increasing the covered cultivation area.
The single frame, lean-to and conservatory
In the search for improved crop protection, the first framed glasspanes (schietramen) were introduced in Westland in around 1850. However, these leaded glass windows were extremely heavy and later led to the development of much lighter single framed panes (glazed pane in a wooden frame).
At the end of the nineteenth century, it became apparent that cultivating grapes against walls behind glass was a lucrative activity. The collapse of the potato trade during this same period and the failure of the outdoor grape harvest triggered the next development: an adjustable climate. This led to the development and construction of the first so-called lean-to (lessenaar) and later on the so-called “kopkas”.
The first heated glass conservatories for grape cultivation were constructed in Westland in around 1900, approximately one hundred years after the construction of the first conservatories elsewhere in Europe. The arrival of these conservatories led to the start of both tomato and later cucumber cultivation.
Developments continued at a rapid pace. In 1906, cucumbers were already being successfully grown in Loosduinen in conservatories based on an English design. This was a relatively expensive solution that not every grower could afford. Around 1910, an inventive grower devised a more affordable solution. He assembled the panes vertically and placed a roof of single frames on top, supported by a structure of wooden pillars. The greenhouse was born.
The demand for vegetables grown under glass increased after World War II, leading to the construction of the first greenhouse. Soon afterwards, in around 1970, the switch was made from wood and steel to the steel and aluminium greenhouses that we know today.