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The Ultimate Guide to Winter Gardens


Everything you need to know about wintergardens

Dollar Bay, 31-Storeys


If you have been browsing the developments in Canary Wharf, or indeed many new build developments across London, you will have noticed an unmistakeable trend in recent years; wintergardens.

It is the developers buzzword of choice, and more and more new build apartments are being built without balconies, but with winter gardens instead. Unfortunately, what little that is written about them seems to be largely adverts!

Here we will take a look at everything to do with wintergardens. What are wintergardens, why they are becoming more popular, and is this a good thing?

What is a Wintergarden?

Generally, they are greenhouse type areas that have a large glazed expanse, tiled flooring, and an internal glass door or screen to divide them from the living area.

Winter Gardens should be glazed areas, thermally seperated from the interior and having a drained floor

Supplementary Planning Guide – London 2016

In reality, winter gardens range widely from developer to developer.

Some are little more than a cornered off area in front of a large window, whilst some are integral glass facades forming part of the buildings structure. The Dollar Bay development in Canary Wharf, shown above, is a perfect example of harnessing the benefits of winter gardens within an integral building design.

Each apartment in Dollar Bay has a 1.5 meter wide wintergarden as a buffer between itself and the outer skin of the building. As a properly designed and integral structure the winter gardens, alongside additional green measures, help to reduce electricity bills by up to 40%.

4 reasons why winter gardens are becoming more popular

1 – Planning rules

Private open space is highly valued and should be provided in all new housing developments

Supplementary Planning Guide – London 2016

Planning officers, and hence development regulations, have long seen the benefit of giving private open space on wellbeing.

The latest planning guides emphasise the need for new build developments to try and provide outside space for apartments.

Crucially there is the caveat that enclosing balconies as glazed, ventilated winter gardens can be considered an acceptable alternative to “outside space”. This helps developers maximise the all weather useable space in the apartments, whilst also meeting targets for private open space requirements.

2 – Super tall buildings

Super tall buildings are actually recommended by london planning guidelines to incorporate winter gardens instead of balconies.

This is due to the increased wind noise that accompanies apartments so high up.

squire and landmark pinnacle
Landmark Pinnacle under construction

A perfect example of this is Landmark Pinnacle, one of the newest and tallest buildings currently under development in Canary Wharf. It stands at an impressive 239 meters, 75 storeys, tall.

It’s prominent position at the head of the dock affords it towering views across London. However as one of the tallest residential towers across the whole of Europe, and with such an exposed waterfront position, balconies are not really an option for the Landmark Pinnacle tower.

In developments of this type, winter gardens enable you to enjoy the views without the strong winds.

3 – Great for plant lovers

The UK is not known for its tropical climate! According to plant hardiness zones, we are anywhere between a 9 and a rather chilly 6 on the scale, limiting our ability to grow many plants.

However USDA hardiness zones, the areas that define where different plant species can survive across the world, are simply temperature bands.

While sunny CGI marketing photos filled full of tropical plants look appealing in the summer, as temperatures drop below freezing, the exposed nature of a windswept UK balcony will severely limit your plant choice.

The Wardian is a Ballymore development in Canary Wharf thats based itself around wraparound “garden balconies” as a feature.

Balcony gardens at The Wardian by Ballymore

However, they do advise that anyone attempting to replicate the balcony gardens they display, should do so through their approved contractor under an ongoing landscaping contract. Without professional help, it is unlikely that you will be able to replicate the tropical balconies displayed at 50 storeys high.

By having a greenhouse area instead of an exposed balcony, you can control the climate and theoretically grow whatever plants you desire. With indoor gardening and popularity of exotic houseplants skyrocketing, more and more people may begin to prefer winter gardens.

4 – Cheaper heating bills

Especially important to north facing apartments, well designed wintergardens provide a thermal barrier, warming the air between the exterior skin of the building and the interior.

This slows the rate that heat disappears from your cosy flat, and they provide you with a useable space in all weathers, all year around.

In cold winters, a glazed-in winter garden versus a balcony, will significantly reduce thermal losses and improve your heating bills.

Things to watch out for in apartments with winter gardens

Reduction of living space

I should start by saying that the majority of apartments in the modern developments across Canary Wharf and throughout the Isle of Dogs are well thought out. Developers are clearly targeting the premium end of the new build market and have invested in strong architecture.

However there do seem to be the odd apartments where winter gardens seemed to have been added in as a last minute afterthought, and in this case just remove space from area of the living room.

Winter gardens that aren’t an integral part of the building design lack any real benefit, but do take away precious space.

winter garden in apartment in lincoln plaza canary wharf
Spot the “garden” in this apartment in Lincoln Plaza

With nothing more than a slim retractable glass screen placed in front of a window, is there any real advantage to winter gardens like this? With continuous wooden flooring, and no difference in temperature between the two areas, you could argue this winter garden is doing nothing more than taking up valuable living room space.

Noise pollution

This is not a disadvantage of winter gardens specifically, however they are often incorporated within buildings or apartments in buildings that would otherwise have a major noise problem.

Wintergardens are frequently seen on lower floors where buildings are opposite busy roads or train lines, where developers may have wanted to have placed a balcony, but have been unable due to noise regulations.

An example of this can be seen even in the most premium of developments. Despite The Wardians focus on outdoor garden balconies, flats on the lower floors that are adjacent to Canary Wharf’s DLR line have glazed-in wintergardens instead to try and mitigate their noisy outlook.

It’s good to check that the winter garden is there for the benefit of the owner and not because the developer has been forced into it by building so closely to external noise or pollution.

Overheating and poor ventilation

In 2014, the various government agencies commission a joint report to be completed by the Good Homes Alliance, looking into new build developments that were suffering from excessive heat.

Fully openable windows should form a standard feature of winter garden design.

Good Homes Alliance – 2014

It found apartments throughout London had poorly designed wintergardens, that hindered ventilation but also created unmanageable temperatures inside. Their findings showed that the overheating risk was originally not anticipated as a problem during the design phase, with developers solely focused on reducing noise and retaining heat in the winter.

Several south facing properties with wintergardens suffered from extreme heat in the summer, created by their poorly designed winter gardens greenhouse effect.

The reports key findings were to ensure that wintergarden windows were large and fully openable, to allow heat built up in the summer months to be dumped, so consider this alongside the orientation of your apartment.


Wintergardens can provide a great alternative to balconies. For the green fingered, they enable you to enjoy a much wider variety of houseplants than the UK climate would otherwise allow.

Whilst clearly a personal preference as to whether you prefer the fresh air of a balcony, a well designed winter garden can both reduce noise and heat loss, whilst providing a useable space all year round.

However, wintergardens do have some downsides, potentially inducing excessive heat or being used to cover up for noise problems.

Therefore it is important to look for a winter garden that has been designed as an integral part of the building, not as an afterthought, or the negatives might outweigh any gains.