Visit the National Trust's New Unfolding Glasshouse.

Words by
Lee Cassanell

11th July 2022

Designed by Heatherwick studios, the glasshouse is located in Woolbeding Gardens, East Sussex. 

glasshouse Woolbeding

Heatherwick Studio has unveiled its latest project, a kinetic Glasshouse set on the edge of the National Trust’s Woolbeding Gardens, part of an historic estate in West Sussex.

This unfolding structure provides the focal point to a new garden that reveals how much the ancient Silk Route has influenced English gardens of today. It features ten steel ‘sepals’ with glass and aluminium façade which take four long minutes to open, creating an immense 141m2 space in the shape of a crown.

Conceived in collaboration with The Woolbeding Charity and the National Trust, the Glasshouse draws inspiration from the spirit of Victorian ornamental terrariums. It deploys cutting-edge engineering to provide a functional protective structure while at the same time offering a beguiling, decorative element to the new Silk Route Garden.

On warm days, the Glasshouse opens its ‘sepals’ using a hydraulic mechanism to allow the plants access to sunshine and ventilation while in colder weather the structure remains closed providing shelter to a collection of subtropical species.  

The Silk Route Garden surrounding the Glasshouse invites visitors on a 12-step journey through a landscape influenced by the ancient trading route between Asia and Europe where commodities such as the eponymous silk were exchanged and along which many plants species were brought back to Britain for the first time, such as rosemary, lavender and fennel. 

A winding path allows visitors to move through over 300 species and twelve distinct regions of the Silk Road. From Mediterranean evergreens where visitors can enjoy a rare variety of Mullein (Verbascum sp.) grown from a seed brought here by a friend of Woolbeding Gardens, through to the richly scented Gallica roses, now so popular in England but originally introduced to Europe by traders from Persia.

The Glasshouse itself shelters an impressive, rare specimen of an Aralia Vietnamensis which provides shade for a collection of tender ferns growing alongside umbrella trees, magnolias and bananas.

“This Heatherwick Glasshouse represents the cutting edge of technical design and engineering but it’s also a restoration of something that is part of Woolbeding’s history,” said  Mark Woodruff of The Woolbeding Charity:

“It stands as a crowning achievement in contemporary design, to house the flora of sub-tropical south-west China at the end of a path retracing the steps along the Silk Route, from temperate Europe and across mountains, arid lands and high pastures that brought the plants from their native habitat in Asia to come to define much of the richness and glory of gardening in England.”