THE GREENHOUSE, built in 1810, illustrated George Carter’s interest in contemporary horticultural practices and reflected his wealth. It is believed to be the second-oldest propagation greenhouse in the country. The south-facing glass wall and glazed roof maximizes sun exposure for plants in the hothouse. The attached potting shed helps shield the hothouse from northerly winds while also providing storage for equipment and heating devices. Enslaved people used the space to cultivate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Oral history suggests that one or two enslaved people may have slept inside the greenhouse during winter months when they had to stoke the heating system day and night in order to maintain a constant warm temperature.
By the late 1800s, the second generation of Carters used the hothouse to display more exotic plants such as sago palms. They also turned the attached shed into an official dwelling. In the early 1900s, the Eustis family improved the structure with a state-of-the-art Lord and Burnham iron framework and heating system. They propagated boxwoods and grew snapdragons, roses, tomatoes, and rhubarb. Today, Oatlands’ garden staff follows the tradition of using the historic greenhouse to shelter delicate plantings during colder months.
The Greenhouse, c. 1890
The only known photograph of the greenhouse in the 1800s shows two unidentified women inside the hothouse. Note the lower floor level and trees planted inside. Using data from archaeological investigations, these details help date the photograph between 1870 and 1895.
John Leland Talbot, undated
John Leland Talbot emigrated from England in 1900. He worked as head gardener at Oatlands for several years and lived in the house now operating as the Inn at Oatlands Hamlet.
Plate 103, Design for Greenhouse
As with the mansion, it is possible that George Carter designed much of the greenhouse himself with the use of pattern books and advice from builders. Oatlands’ greenhouse emulates designs seen in William Pain’s The Practical House Carpenter, 1796 (shown here) and other design books of construction patterns and plans.
The Greenhouse, 1937
Located in direct view of the mansion and its original front entrance, George Carter meant to impress any visitor to Oatlands with a view of his greenhouse. The Eustis family continued to utilize the greenhouse as a key component of their horticultural program. Early on, they planted Japanese maple trees on either side of the hothouse door, which remain today.