Monday, November 21, 2011

National Botanic Garden of Belgium - A tour of the Plant Palace

Mark and I have had a well deserved short break in the Belgian capital Brussels. Although we did all the typical tourist activities (Atomium, Grand Place, various museums, waffles and chocolate! to name a few), we also decided to pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens. 

The first Botanical Garden in Brussels was situated in what is now part of the financial district and closed its doors in 1938 (the glasshouses eventually becoming concert venues). The important plants and botanical collections were moved to the present location in Meise, in the grounds of Bouchout Castle, just to the north of Brussels. Meise is about 4km from Atomium and the Heysel underground train stop, so it was just a short taxi ride (which almost ended up with us going back to the old botanic garden site) to the garden.

With the continental weather a little colder than at home, autumn was much further on than in our garden, however there was still plenty to see.

First off and we headed to the large glass house, grandly named the Plant Palace, which is a series of 13 interconnected glasshouses. The palace is currently undergoing some restoration so the main entrance was closed and we had to walk round to the back.

On entering, the first section was a Mediterranean themed area. Many of the plants in this glasshouse were in pots awaiting this section's turn for building work to create the new beds. The pots were so tightly placed together they didn't detract from the overall look.
Sonchus canariensis
The next section was much more tropical, with an emphasis on bananas, aroids and other exotic species. They had a huge Titan arum, (with Mark for scale), that really was a stunning example, probably better than the plants Kew usually have on display each year.

Mark and the Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum)
Carica papaya in fruit

Cryptanthe - Starfish plant
Cocos nucifera, complete with coconuts
The Victoria house is home to a large pond which usually contains a Victoria water lilly (Victoria amazonica), which sadly was not there. These are grown annually at Kew, so it may be that the Belgium Botanic Gardens adopt the same approach. However the Victoria house was still packed with interesting plants, including a Mauritia flexuosa palm with its pot submerged into the water.

View across the pool in the Victoria House 
Mauritia flexuosa

Cyperus prolifer
The unusual prickly stems of Cyrtosperma johnstonii.
From the Victoria House we moved into the first of two arid sections, this had a mix of agaves, cycads as well as a few more leafy plants.

Ficus abutilifolia
Hechtia marnier-lapostollei
From the arid house we entered the main glasshouse at the front of the Plant Palace, this was palm heaven, although with so many large specimens in pots it was difficult to admire individual plants. To the right hand side builders were busy preparing what will be a renewed section. This gave a tempting glimpse of what the Plant Palace will look like in a few months time when the main sections have been finished.

Works being undertaken in one of the front glasshouses.

Through the next three glasshouses large specimens in pots were all waiting their turn at being planted. This led us back into the Mediterranean zone and the end of the first half of the Plant Palace.

Medinillia magnifica

Double flowered white Brugmansia
Heading back to the Victoria House this time we left via a different exit and into a second (and much more stunning), arid house. The newly renovated display area really set the plants off to their best. Although someone obviously felt one of the cacti could be enhanced!

Nolina stricta

Stapelia variegata var. Planifora

An enhanced cactus!

Leaving the arid glasshouse we entered a temperate house, with huge Trachycarpus fortuneii, camelias, and rhododendrons giving the feel of the Himalayan foothills. A particularly large Trachycarpus martianus caught our attention.

Trachycarpus martianus in the center.

Mark is always drawn to fishponds!

The final section was an evolution house, and I was expecting to be disappointed. These educational displays are normally home to the same stereotypical selection of real and plastic plants, organised in the same way with a lack of gardening 'design'. However the Evolution House in the Plant Palace is fabulous, well laid out, interesting features, and quality plants, we really enjoyed this house.

The Plant Palace was a great start to the gardens, and we probably spent over half of the time of our visit in the glasshouses. I will post a follow up from the grounds in the next few days.

National Botanic Garden of Belgium


  1. Some very cool plants and that Brugmansia is gorgeous. In fact so much of it is really lovely. Mark caught my eye immediately hanging out at the pond. Bet that just makes you want yours finished even more.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. What a great garden to visit! The plants look very well cared for. Looking at your photos, it was easy to forget that these were taken inside glasshouses!

    I believe Nolina stricta now goes by Beaucarnea stricta. I've never seen a specimen with leaves that blue!

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  3. You are so lucky to be able to visit such big and full botanical gardens, I envy Mark. I saw in the photos dome endemic species from here, and I can say they are performing very well there. I haven't seen a Titan arum, but it certainly just look like our "pungapong" or Amorphophallus campanulatus, just magnified. LOL.

  4. So many beautiful plants in every photo, I'm going to have to look a third and fourth time to catch them all. Naturally the Sonchus was breathtaking!

  5. I love Brussels and have been several times but, to my shame, not to the Botanical gardens. Shaming. (I have though been to the ones in Amsterdam and Hamburg - so obviously I am like a proper gardening-type person really. Obviously). Looks amazing, hope you rewarded yourselves with some moules et frites!


  6. Wow - I just love large glasshouses like these, but I don't think I've ever seen any so impressive! I could imagine being able to stay all day and not see everything! Gorgeous displays of plants. What a fabulous fish pond, too! (Yes, I'm drawn to them, too.) And I have never, ever, seen a cactus smile before! :)

  7. I went to Brussels on the Eurostar. I didn't know there was a botanical garden there, or I would have visited. I'll have another look at your photos instead.

  8. Holy botanical adventures, what a great set of shots. Thanks for sharing. I've seen lots of pictures of Amorphophallus titanum in bloom but never in the green. It's just like it's smaller reletives but super sized. There aren't many glassed in gardens up here Canada, looks like I will have to travel elsewhere to find some.

  9. OMG...I had to do a double-take with that enormous Arum...I had no idea they could get so big!

  10. What a great blog post and a fantastic place! Your photos are incredible. I found you through Gerhard. He is a friend of mine. If you lived closer I would give you an Agave Parryi! I have tons of them!

  11. Thanks Cher! I’m naturally inclined to go near a pond whenever I see one, especially if it’s got fishes in it. Yes, can’t wait to finish ours :)

    Gerhard, the botanical gardens was so quiet it almost felt that we had the entire place to ourselves. The glasshouse specimens were superb, even better I can imagine when it gets finished.

    Andrea, isn’t it amazing that a lot of plants that are endemic to the Philippines (or even weeds there) are prized glasshouse only specimens here? There is always an allure to collecting things that are unusual to your climate zone.

    Loree, the Sonchus reminded me more of the one you have as opposed to mine! Scroll away when you have some spare time again :)

    David, moules et frites, C’est si Bon! Mind you I’ve been to Brussels several times before and this was my first time to check out their botanical gardens. So in a way you’re not the only one!

    Same here Holley, I do love glasshouses as they always have a promise of good things to see inside :) The smiling cactus is fun!

  12. b-a-g, same here, we went via eurostar and it’s definitely worth checking out next time you visit :)

    Nat, you’ll have to cross the atlantic and visit the glasshouses in the UK. That Amorphophallis titanium is the biggest I’ve ever seen, better than the ones at Kew (and those were already impressive!) :)

    Scott, truly impressive isn’t it? :)

    Glad to see you here Candy, thanks for popping round! I’ve read so much about you from Gerhard’s blog and do love your garden and succulent collection :) If only you were nearer I’d take you up on your offer of a A. parryi (a gorgeous plant!).

  13. What a lot! And I wish I could say what I like best but I'm stuck for some of the names. I do know that there's something very peaceful about an empty greenhouse - and that I can't imagine a happier cactus than the on that's been enhanced.

  14. Those glasshouses are amazing. Wouldn't you just love to be a gardener there and get to play with all those wonderful plants every day.

  15. No worries Esther, I'm stuck with most of the names too, with such diverse range of plants :) I love that smiling cactus, I might have a go at making one for myself.

    Missy, wouldn't that be great indeed, to be surrounded with such lush foliage and be able to garden all year round. Maybe one day we'll have a bigger garden and able to have a smaller glasshouse in it. One can aspire! :)

  16. O! I was there last May - you may see collection of photos from that month. Amorphophallus pot was empty - no leaf or flower, it grew so fast!! It's interesting, because then in 2-3 days I was at Kew glasshouse in London and Amorphophallus had a leaf - so, they are not synchronised....
    Thanks for commenting on my blog.

  17. Small world Ewa, and what a coincidence! Amorphophallus does size up very quick once it breaks dormancy and gets going. And we regularly visit Kew too. It's a pleasure to read your blog :)

  18. How fun! I love going to botanical gardens!
    That is one impressive Titan arum!

  19. What a fabulous collection of photos, some great plants there, though I think the Titan (so aptly named) has to be one of my favourites. I think I could have spent hours there.

  20. Wonderful tour: thank you! Were there koi in that pond?

    Amazing to see Agave growing so happily in Brussels, of all places.

  21. Indie - the Titan was great to see, we have seen examples before at Kew but this one seemed so good.

    Janet - We spent most of our time in the glasshouse, it was such an enjoyable place to be.

    Hoover Boo - the Agave were all growing inside. I think the winter may be a little too cold for them to grow outside without protection.

  22. What a fabulous tour! I loved the glasshouse, and the water lilies and the ficus and and and. The photos rocked!! Thanks for sharing this adventure! Do you have your own fish pond?

  23. LD - Thanks, glad you enjoyed it, we would love to visit again after the works are completed.

    We are currently building a large pond - check out our progress -


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