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Why is a Glass Atrium Essential for Indoor Horticulturalists?

Green is good. Take your indoor horticulture to the next level with a stylish glass atrium.

Date

09 Feb 2024

By

Simon McAuliffe

Two houseplants

Plants make us happy.

 

That is a true fact according to a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), which found that gardeners have wellbeing scores 6.6% higher and stress levels 4.2% lower than those with no interest in plants at all.

 

They make us healthier too; the simple act of looking at a plant has been known to cut recovery times after operations, and outdoor therapy is regularly prescribed by doctors to alleviate mental health conditions.

 

But not everyone has access to a garden. In fact, approximately 1 in 8 people don’t, rising to 1 in 5 in big cities such as London. Without being able to step outside into a private world of greenery, many people choose to bring it indoors by keeping houseplants – a concept the popularity of which was boosted by the lockdowns endured during the pandemic.

 

For many of us, we want more than just a couple of potted cacti on the windowsill or a Monesterra deliciousa in our dining room. Instead, we want to place greenery at the very heart of our architectural designs, breathing ever-changing life into the heart of a home or commercial space.

 

The best way to achieve that vision, in our humble opinion, is with a glass atrium, a glazed space filled with lush vegetation fed with an abundance of natural light that seamlessly integrates with and significantly enhances architectural features.

 

Whether you are a homeowner seeking to enhance your living environment, or a business owner aiming to create a more inviting workspace, a garden atrium might be the perfect solution.

 

Before we tell you why, let’s define what exactly a garden atrium is.

Indoor plants in the bathroom

What is a garden atrium?

 

A garden atrium is a space within a building designed to incorporate a lush, indoor garden or a significant amount of greenery. It is typically an enclosed or semi-enclosed area, often flanked by glass walls and crowned by a skylight to allow natural light to penetrate and nurture the plants within.

 

While its design will vary from one project to the next, the key elements of a garden atrium are an abundance of light – ideally provided by luxury glazing – and plenty of ventilation. When combined, the two factors create conditions that are more than suitable for growing a wide range of plants.


The benefits of creating a garden within a glass atrium

 

We know that glass atriums look great – whether they’re filled with plants or not. But here are several other benefits for you to think about:

 

Increased light means increased photosynthesis

Thinking back to your school days, you will remember that the process of photosynthesis is responsible for plant energy production and occurs in the chlorophyll when water and CO2 react with light. The more light you have, the higher the potential for energy production and the bigger the plants you will be able to grow. 

 

Moreover, it’s worth noting that the relationship between light and photosynthesis extends beyond just the size and growth of plants. Light also influences the overall health and vitality of vegetation. When plants receive optimal light, they tend to be more resistant to diseases, better at producing fruit, and more efficient at utilising water and nutrients from the soil.

 

By incorporating a glass atrium, you are increasing the light levels available to the plants, allowing them to grow healthier and happier as a result.

 

A controlled environment allows you to grow plants that you wouldn’t elsewhere

Much like a greenhouse, a glass atrium is considered to be a controlled environment. What that means is that you can adjust the temperature, the light levels, the humidity and the soil characteristics. You don’t have to worry about wind, and your plant’s exposure to pests and diseases is likely to be far less – so long as you follow good horticultural practices.

 

As a result of that controlled environment, you can grow plants that would typically thrive in the rainforests of Brazil – like the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) – or the rocky desert of South Africa – a zebra haworthia (Haworthiopsis attenuata) – rather than the cold, wet conditions of the UK. You might even consider growing a banana plant such as Musa acuminata, a plant that needs plenty of light and heat.

 

It can provide a talking point

When it comes to conversational interest, a glass atrium easily beats a record collection, sports car or new appliance. If guests enter your home or business associates walk into your reception area and are confronted with a full-sized tree – perhaps an Acer palmatum – growing inside a glass structure, they are likely to be captivated by it. 

 

We know we would be (but we are glazing specialists). 

 

It places the specimen front and centre, contrasting magnificently with its man-made surroundings, and is akin to seeing a full-sized ship inside a bottle. In short – spellbinding.

 

It can boost the price tag of your property

According to Check A Trade, adding a glass extension to your home or commercial property will increase its value by approximately 7%. The reasons for that are multifaceted: the glass extension will look great – especially if you use bespoke, high-quality glazing; the extension increases the property’s usable space; and a garden atrium enhances the connectivity between the outside world and the inside one. Furthermore, the construction of a glass atrium boosts natural light, something that can be very beneficial to our health.

 

The additional considerations of a garden atrium

 

For growing plants, a glass atrium is one of the best-controlled environments you can have, allowing you to manage climactic conditions to increase their vitality. But – there is always a but – there are certain things that you must consider if you are to make your garden atrium a success:

 

Photosynthesis can be limited by water or other factors

In a previous section, we invited you to think back to your school days to remember how the rate of photosynthesis is influenced by the availability of light. With your mind fixed on that spot, you might also remember that according to Leibig’s Law, the rate of photosynthesis will be determined by the factor that is in the shortest supply. Even if you have all the light in the world, photosynthesis can still be limited by other essential factors, such as water or carbon dioxide availability. A glass atrium is great, but you may also need to think about irrigation, additional CO2, and soil nutrients. Think of the growth of plants like a chain; photosynthesis is just one link.

 

Humidity can provide a breeding ground for pests

While you might enjoy creating rainforest-like conditions with high humidity – that, incidentally, also lowers transpiration rates to reduce watering needs – you should also be aware that many plant pests and fungal diseases thrive in humid conditions. Powdery mildew, for example, spreads via spores and coats leaves in a white, grey fungus that reduces their ability to photosynthesise. Glasshouse whitefly – the scourge of tomato crops – can also breed prolifically in humid conditions, sucking the carbohydrate-rich sap from plants and, thus, weakening them.

Prevention of these pests and pathogens is key. This can be achieved mainly through enhanced ventilation (natural or mechanical), which removes warm, stagnant air that increases whitefly breeding and allows fungal diseases to thrive.

A close up of a houseplant flower (spider plant)


What plants should you grow in your glass atrium?

 

Selecting the right plants for your glass atrium is important if you want to create a thriving, visually appealing indoor garden. While growing very large trees such as the English oak (Quercus robur) would be unsuitable – mainly because of their size and unsuitability for pots, but also because their roots can damage nearby structures – your choice is largely limited to your imagination and the specific requirements of the plant.

 

Take, for example, the previously mentioned Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalata). In its ancestors’ natural habitat, the plant occupies a low-level position in the rainforest, sheltered from direct sunlight for most of the day by the canopy above. As a result, putting one in your sunny atrium is likely to be detrimental to this particular plant’s health. Instead, it will be far happier in a shadier garden atrium that receives diffused sunlight for far shorter periods.

 

Depending on the aspect and the conditions that you can provide, ideal choices for your glass atrium often include tropical plants like orchids, bromeliads, and ferns, which are well-suited to the high humidity and diffused light that characterise glass atriums. Palms, such as the Kentia Palm or Bamboo Palm, can add a touch of the exotic and reach impressive heights, while citrus trees, like lemon or lime, can flourish in these controlled environments, offering fragrant blooms and edible fruits. Finally, succulents and cacti can be excellent choices for low-maintenance, drought-tolerant options. Ultimately, the selection of plants should align with your aesthetic preferences, maintenance capabilities, and the specific conditions within your glass atrium.

 

Other examples of biophilic architecture

 

Green roofs

The roofs of buildings tend to be ecological deserts, providing very little value to wildlife. To many, this is an accepted fact; to others, it is an opportunity for horticultural enhancement. Green roofs are those that have plants, mosses and fungi growing on them, providing nectar to pollinators and shelter to birds, mammals and insects. Herbs such as creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and oregano (Origanum vulgare) are perfectly suited to the exposure of a green roof, and grasses like blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) will provide year-round interest.

 

Green walls

Rotate your green roof so that it’s vertical and you have yourself a green wall. This can be achieved by filling cracks in walls with a growing medium and some suitable plant seeds or hanging potted plants from a floor-to-ceiling framework. You might also consider growing climbers like honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) or a climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris).

 

Water features

Water should be at the core of any good garden, but it should also be considered when planning an architectural project. Much like in a garden setting, moving water can provide visual and audio interest, whereas a standing pool can act as a mirror to other elements within your design.

 

Conclusion

We often consider horticulture to be an ‘out there’ activity. But by incorporating a glass atrium into your next design, you are placing the external world at its heart, providing an opportunity to transport your client from a British sitting room to rainforests, deserts, or Mediterranean terraces far far away. If you would like to know more about how an atrium can elevate your next project, speak to us today.