We can thank the Victorians for many of these graceful feats of engineering created to show off exotic flora collected by intrepid explorers on their travels. But others, such as the Eden Project and the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanical Garden of Wales are brand-new, high-tech structures built with our new awareness of the environment.
New or old, these gardens are often buzzing with events, and frequently offer somewhere for a pleasant walk and a delicious cream tea.
Belfast Botanic Gardens
Step into the Palm House and your eyes will be rewarded with splashes of colour, while you breathe in the scents of plants such as geraniums, fuchsias and begonias, grown all year round.
The Gardens have a long history, having been first established in 1828 during the reign of George III and have been open to the public since 1895. The Palm House was completed in 1840, and was constructed by Richard Turner of Dublin, who later built the Great Palm House at Kew.
The Tropical Ravine, or Fernery, was added in 1889; here the plants grow in a sunken glen overlooked by a balcony.
The park is often used for concerts
Belfast Botanic Gardens, College Park, Botanic Avenue BT7 1LP
Entry free. Open 1pm-4pm until March
Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, East Devon
This is a family friendly attraction with four elegant glasshouses including the Palm house built in the 1820s using 18,000 small glass panes within slim iron glazing bars. The Arid House features many large cacti and the Tropical House is home of the exquisite Bicton orchid (Lemboglossum bictoniense), named after the Park where it first bloomed in 1836.
Amenities include a countryside museum, the charming Bicton Woodland Railway train ride (open all year), a nature trail, indoor and outdoor children’s play complexes, restaurant and shop. Late afternoon cream teas are have been introduced recently.
Bicton Gardens, East Budleigh, Budleigh Salterton,
Exeter Devon EX9 7BJ
Entry Adult £8.95, Family £25.95, children 3-16 £6.95 Dogs £1
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
The gardens’ beautiful Victorian glasshouses display plants from the tropical, subtropical, Mediterranean and arid zones. The gardens were opened in 1832, having been designed by Scotsman John Claudius Loudon, a pioneering designer of public open spaces.
Photography courses are offered, starting in January, and there’s a book sale and bulb display Sunday 16 February.
The Pavilion Tea Room serves morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea, but its opening hours vary, so it’s best to call ahead on 0121 450 4613.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3TR
Entry adult £7, family £22, children under five free
Dyffryn Gardens, Gwynedd, Wales
Throughout the winter it will still be hot in the Dryffryn Gardens glasshouse. During the early years of the twentieth century, the third son Reginald Corey decided he preferred collecting plants to practicing law and sponsored many plant-hunting trips around the world, sometimes going along himself. (The family business was in coal, which they shipped to over 180 ports around the world, giving Reginald a fleet of ships at his disposal.) He was a member of the RHS and a liveryman of the Ancient Guild of gardeners.
The sheltered south-west-facing garden still contains some of the plants he collected. The glasshouse is split into three areas housing a large collection of important cacti, orchids and a vinery.
The Gardens and tea room are open 10am to 4pm every day; the house is open 12-3pm at the weekends.
Dryffyn Gardens, Gwynedd CF5 6SU
Non-members entry Adult £7.40, Family £18.50, Child £3.70
Eden Project, Cornwall
Wander through three climatic zones, including the rainforest with steamy jungles and waterfalls, all enclosed in futuristic transparent ‘biomes’.
For winter, Anemones provide a splash of welcome colour, hanging baskets drip with winter vegetables and, as dusk falls, the trees twinkle with tiny lights.
If you fancy some winter sport without the snow, there’s even an under cover ice rink. Sessions must be booked in advance and cost £6.
Sunday 26 January is the special Dogs’ Day Out – featuring Monty Halls.
The Eden Project’s cafes and restaurants offer local, fair-trade food.
Eden Project, Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall PL24 2SG
Entry £23.50 for adults, but a variety of deals for advance purchases
Glasgow Botanic Gardens
Situated beside the River Kelvin, the Gardens are an oasis of calm within the bustling city, and its elegant glasshouses offer a tropical respite from the winter chill.
Their centerpiece is the spectacular Kibble Palace, an elegant glasshouse that underwent a multi-million pound restoration in 2006. Inside, white marble statues recline among the lush palm trees and ferns.
Concerts, art exhibitions and events are held all year round, and your can treat yourself at the Tea Room at the Botanics (0141 276 1640)
Botanic Gardens, 730 Great Western Road, Glasgow G12 OUE
Entry free of charge
Kew Gardens, south west London
Savour the heat as you explore beautiful historic glasshouses full of tropical plants, galleries and museums. You can wander at your leisure, or learn about 250 years of history at the world-famous Gardens on a guided walk with a volunteer guide.
The spectacular Orchid Festival runs from Saturday 8 February to Sunday 9 March in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
There are four eateries offering refreshments from a quick coffee and a cake to varied meals in the Grade I-listed Orangery Restaurant.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB
Entry £14.50, concessions £12.50, Children 16 and under free
RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey
Entering the enormous cathedral-like Glasshouse at Wisley is like walking into a jungle. You’re surrounded by tree ferns, tall palms, lush-leaved creepers and dazzling flower displays. There are three interlinked zones: dry temperate and moist temperate, plus a tropical zone overlooking the lake at the front.
From 18 January to 9 March, Wisley will be holding Butterflies in the Glasshouse, so you can see exotic and beautiful butterflies flying around you – or maybe even landing on you.
You can also treat yourself to a butterfly-themed ‘Flights of Fancy’ afternoon tea during this event from 2pm daily: adults £17.50, children £9.50.
For serious photographers, there’s also a Butterfly Photography morning (untutored) from 7.45 to 10.15am on 12 February, members £20, non-members £32.
RHS Garden Wisley, Woking GU23 6QB
Entry: RHS members free, non-members Adult £12.20, Family £31.50, child £5.25
(NB pushchairs and prams cannot be taken into the Glasshouse during the Butterflies in the Glasshouse event. There will be an uncovered buggy park outside.)
Sheffield Botanical Gardens
A total of 15 gardens are spread over 19 acres, featuring collections of plants from all over the globe, including Mediterranean, Asian, American prairie-style, woodland and rock-and-water gardens. They were first opened in 1836, and were recently restored at a cost of more then £6 million with the help of £5 million from the Heritage Lottery fund.
The restored Grade II* listed glass pavilions were officially re-opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2003, but unfortunately they will be closed for repainting from January 6 for approximately five weeks. Call 0114 268 6001 to confirm that they are open before planning a February visit.
Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, Clarkehouse Road, Sheffield, S10 2LN.
National Botanic Garden of Wales
You can escape from every the Welsh winter can throw at you inside the world’s largest single-span glasshouse, designed by Foster and Partners, and called, appropriately, The Great Glasshouse. This imposing structure stands on the site of spectacular water gardens built by William Paxton from 1789, but only ruins were left 200 years later. Under the guidance of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust, an application was made to the Millennium Commission to build the new gardens, both as a visitor attraction and a centre for botanical research and conservation.
The Seasons restaurant specialises in organic food, and you can enjoy lighter snacks and drinks at the Gatehouse Café.
Many events are held throughout the year: there’s an Antiques weekend (11-12), Woodcraft weekend (18-19) and Food Fair (25-26) when admission will be £2 per adult. Otherwise admission is free throughout January.
The first week of February is Snowdrop week, Feb 7 is the Star Party 6.30pm to 9pm entry £3.
National Botanic Garden of Wales, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire SA32 8HG
Entry adult £8.50 (free in January, see above)