A Tropical Getaway: Polish Palm Houses
default, Książ Castle palm house in Wałbrzych, photo: Sławomir Woć / Reporter / East News, center, palmiarnia_walbrzych_wnetrze_en.jpg
Do you long to relax in the luxurious shade of palm trees? There’s no need to endure a lengthy (and environmentally harmful) plane flight to spend some time in the tropics. You can simply rest in one of Poland’s very own palm houses.
Palm houses – glass pavilions suitable for growing and displaying exotic plants – are a 19th-century idea. The development of construction technologies in that period made it possible to construct tall, spacious buildings consisting of glass roofs and walls.
The palm house built in 1840 in the Belfast Botanic Gardens was probably one of the first constructions of its kind. At first, palm houses were simply an extravagant way for wealthy families to display their status. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, many cities began to construct such buildings in order to open them to citizens and tourists. Poland, too, has many palm houses that are remarkable for both their plant collections and their architectural design.
Poznań Palm House
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The Poznań Palm House is the biggest palm house in Poland and one of the biggest in Europe. It consists of 12 pavilions, two of which are not available to visitors, as they’re used for growing plants. The first of the buildings, located in Poznań’s Wilson Park, was constructed in 1911, and 6 additional ones were built in preparation for the Universal National Exhibition in 1929.
The history of this palm house is quite eventful – it was partly destroyed by bombing during World War II, but continued to operate for some decades following its reconstruction. Unfortunately, it was in such a bad shape at the end of the 1970s that it had to be closed. Interestingly, despite these troubles, most of the plants themselves survived.
Ever since the palm house reopened for visitors in 1992, after a total renovation, it has been a home to 17,000 total plants, which belong to 1,100 species. In addition to palms, there are dozens of species of exotic flowers, fruiting bushes and cacti. The aquarium pavilion is also a great tourist attraction – this first public aquarium in Poland, constructed in 1922, is now populated by 170 species of fish.
Palm house in Gdańsk's Oliwa Park
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The first exotic plants in Gdańsk-Oliwa were cultivated by Cistercians, who created a winter garden in their monastery during the 18th century. A hundred years later, Cistercian lands became the property of the City of Gdańsk, whose authorities decided to make an addition to the palm house (which was also expanded several more times after World War II).
The most characteristic element of the Oliwa palm house is the famous cylindrical glass pavilion, with its 15-metre-high dome. It is currently being reconstructed, as the dome’s height must be increased in order to make room for the 180-year-old date tree (one of the oldest trees in Poland) which is growing inside of it.
Łódź palm house
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The oldest trees growing inside Łódź’s palm house were once part of the estates of the 19th-century factory owners. Many orangeries formerly belonging to industry magnates donated their plant collections to the new public palm house created in 1956. The palm trees, some of which are 150 years old today, were then moved to Źródlisko Park, the oldest park in the city, where an old cafeteria was turned into a glass pavilion suitable for cultivating exotic plants.
The Łódź palm house now consists of three pavilions, with different conditions maintained inside each one. The building also uses a very modern way to heat the glass buildings – the heating installations are integrated with the muntin. Put simply, the interiors are heated by the glass walls.
People visiting the palm house should notice the first tourist attraction even before entering. In 2013, a statue of Wróbel Ćwirek – the main character of a once-popular Polish children’s show – was placed right in front the entrance.
Gliwice palm house
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The history of this palm house dates back to the end of the 19th century, when a municipal park was created in Gliwice. The city’s collection of exotic plants was started in hothouses constructed on the park’s grounds. In 1925, first dedicated pavilions were built to house the collection, but as the palm trees grew rapidly, these soon had to be heightened.
In the wake of World War II, the palm house was in such bad condition that the authorities planned on demolishing it. The efforts of a small group of enthusiasts, however, ultimately saved the building and many of the plants. Gliwice’s oldest palm trees are as old as 160 years.
The 1970s and 1980s saw reconstruction and expansion works taking place in the palm house. The tiny building increased in size thanks to a very modern design created by the architect Andrzej Musialik and the construction engineer Jan Polak. In order to make up for the unstable foundation (the palm house is built on land damaged from mining), Musialik designed the complex on a plane of triangles, while Polak developed an elaborate pipe frame supporting the slanted glass walls and the roof. As this steel skeleton is located on the exterior of the spacious building itself, it became also its most distinguishing feature.
Musialik admitted that the inspiration for his idea was the so-called Crystal Cathedral, an enormous sacred building constructed in Los Angeles’ Garden Grove on the basis of a design by Philip Johnson, one of the most important architects of the 20th century.
Wałbrzych Palm House
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Although it is located slightly away from the Książ Castle, this palm house is part of the castle complex in Wałbrzych. The 15-metre-high decorative glass building was constructed in the years 1911 to 1913 following the order of Hans Heinrich XV Hochberg von Pless, the then-steward of the castle (which is the third biggest in Poland).
The Walbrzych Palm House was built on the Lubiech estate, located on the side of the castle hill. Today, the structure houses 250 species of various exotic plants, and one of its main attractions is a unique Japanese garden, designed by the palm house’s founder. It is worth examining the decorative building of the palm house – it is the only one in Poland which has been preserved in its original form.
Zielona Góra palm house
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The palm house in Zielona Góra is one of the youngest buildings of its kind in Poland – its first pavilion was built in 1961. It is unique thanks to being located atop Winne Wzgórze and surrounded by vineyards which have been producing wine since the 19th century.
The glass building, which has undergone more than a few reconstructions over the years, was created not only as a site for the presentation of 150 species of exotic plants, but also as a place for leisure. It also houses a restaurant and a cafe with a terrace, as well as a conference centre. The palm house offers its visitors a chance to eat, see the city from the viewing terrace, watch numerous exotic species of fish and admire a two storey-high waterfall.
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