Save this glasshouse

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The Independent Online
THIS fine teak-framed glasshouse has been in continuous use at East Malling Research Station, Kent, since 1923, writes Anna Pavord.

It was built by Mackenzie and Moncur (Edinburgh, London and Glasgow, according to the brass plate above the door), which supplied greenhouses to many of the great estates before the First World War.

An Edwardian catalogue, the size of a telephone directory, shows its greenhouses in use at Windsor Castle (16 vineries, two houses for amaryllis), at Exbury, Hampshire (a rhododendron house for the Rothschilds), at Sefton Park in Liverpool and at a score of other grand houses.

The same catalogue also shows the prototype of the glasshouse they built at East Malling, with gauze panels along the sides to stop insects from entering and upsetting scientific experiments, and slatted teak blinds unfurled to shade the roof.

Although the greenhouse remains sound - no rheumatism in the ventilators' winding gear, no cracks in the immense slate slabs bedded into its raised benches, the valves that operate the steam heating system as smooth as silk - it is obsolete in research station terms because it cannot be sterilised to modern standards.

New aluminium and polycarbonate greenhouses crowd it on all sides, and a bulldozer has been waiting for the past month to crunch it up and prepare the site for a new building.

No sensible person can stand by and watch 2in-thick teak doors thrown on a bonfire; carefully shaped fish-scale glass panels smashed; cast-iron gutters and grilles carted off for scrap. The research station, now part of Horticulture Research International, has therefore been trying to find someone to dismantle Mackenzie and Moncur's monumental greenhouse and re-use it elsewhere.

Sonja Howlett, curator of the old walled garden at Quex House in Birchington, Kent, is keen to acquire the greenhouse, but labour costs have proved insurmountable.

Quex has already restored a fine range of teak glasshouses erected by Weeks, of Chelsea, at the turn of the century. The garden, which was glowingly written up in the Gardeners Chronicle of 6 December 1902 with descriptions of its orchid and fern houses, vineries and peach houses, would provide an entirely appropriate setting.

Mrs Howlett has until 20 June to remove the greenhouse from the East Malling site. Marks & Spencer has promised to provide transport. Anyone who can add practical experience, labour or cash should contact Mrs Howlett as quickly as possible (0843 42168 or 0843 45088).

(Photograph omitted)

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