Product of the month: orange

What is now a fairly common-or-garden fruit was once an exotic treat and the stuff of legend. When it first arrived in Europe from China in the 15th century, the strange fruit was greeted with interest by natural scientists and botanists.

Then the aristocracy, always on the lookout for something out-of-the-ordinary and fresh sources of inspiration, laid eyes on this exotic, golden orb. Happily in possession of both the means and the time to indulge in whims, orange trees soon became the ultimate status symbol. But exotic, sub-tropical trees in chilly European parks? The practicalities of maintaining these objects of desire were challenging.

Unless one happened to live in sunny Spain or Italy, getting orange trees to flourish in inclement conditions required some planning. From the 17th century on, lavish glass buildings started popping up. Called orangeries, they were usually attached to palaces and castles, gracing manor parks and fashionable estates. They were heated in the winter, providing protection for the orange trees, which in the summer would stand outside in pots. The necessity of creating a suitable climate for the trees was transformed into a virtue. The most beautiful orangeries, like the one at Versailles, are still used to grow oranges today.