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GardenSMART Episode

Show #20/5207. Meise Botanical Garden

Summary of Show

Antwerp
Belgium's second largest city and biggest port is ANTWERP. This charming city is the country's capital of cool and has long been a powerful magnet for everyone from fashion moguls to art lovers to diamond dealers.
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History Of The Gardens
Manon Van Hoye is the executive in charge of communication and promotion. We first speak with Manon to learn about some of the HISTORY OF THE GARDENS. Eric thanks Manon for joining us. Eric is excited to visit Meise Botanical Gardens. Manon returns the compliment, she is happy GardenSMART is visiting. It's a beautiful day and will talk a bit about the history. They weren't always here. The tower is from the twelfth century and the rest was built years and years and years later. But the garden only was here just before World War II. Before the garden was in Brussels and even in Brussels it was moving around a bit, then it became too big and moved to another place, again it became too big and moved to another place, then at the end a king got involved who really wanted to expand in Brussels.
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Garden Highlights
Eric asks what Manon thinks would be some of the favorite GARDEN HIGHLIGHTS? Well one of the highlights is the beautiful castle, one can even go to the roof. There are expositions there where companies might present something. One can have a marriage here, it's really the center of the garden. But they also have the large greenhouse. And also a really cute little greenhouses built by the architect who built the large greenhouse in Meise. As well they have a magnificent magnolia collection and a really beautiful rhododendron road. They have a lot of oaks with some nice, old species that one can't find in a new botanic garden.
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Greenhouse
Stijn is one of the many gardeners that takes care of this amazing GREENHOUSE structure. Eric thanks Stijn for joining GardenSMART and asks him to tell us about this greenhouse. It is one of the most impressive glass structures Eric has ever seen in his life. It's enormous It was built in 1950, covers about a hectare and a half, built with steel, wood and glass.
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Greenhouse Collections
Eric walked through earlier and saw the wonderful collections from all over the world. That is true, one can visit the plants of the world in one day. Eric asks Stijn to talk about some of the COLLECTIONS here. They have cactus collections, in the spring the glass house features spring flowers from U.S. but you can visit also in the winter and they will still have spring flowers in the winter.
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Araceae
Every gardener has their own specialization. Eric wants Stijn to talk about his specialization because he thinks it fascinating. Stijn's specialization is ARACEAE, a family of monocotyledonous flowering plants borne on a type of inflorescence called spadix. To Stijn the most important plant of the araceae is the amorphophallus, commonly known as Zaminkand, a large genus of some 200 tropical and subtropical tuberous herbaceous plants from the Arum family, native to Asia, Africa, Australia and various oceanic islands.
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Herbarium
We next visit Jeroen who is the gardener in charge of the HERBARIUM. Eric thanks Jeroen for visiting with us. Let's talk about this garden. The Herbarium is such an interesting place, especially for a horticulturalist because it's a collection of a very, very wide range of plants. What role does this garden serve in the broader garden? This is a systematic garden, the plants are divided into different families, it's important to point out that the plants on one side are the oldest in the evolution and when we go further in the garden they are younger in the evolution.
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Herbarium Plants
Eric would like to know about some of the PLANTS that Jeroen finds particularly interesting. First would be Aloysia citriodora. It's a very interesting plant, the smell of this flower is like lemon. They produce very small, white flowers from June through August. A very important use of this plant is that you can use the leaves of the plant to make tea. Interesting. What are some of the other plants that throughout the course of the year are exciting? Cynara cardunculus is a very important plant in this garden.
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Herbarium Greenhouse
In the center of the herbarium they have this beautiful GLASS GREENHOUSE. It's a really unusual structure. Eric would like for Jeroen to tell us a little bit about it. This is a greenhouse built by Alphonse Balat, the Royal architect of King Leopold II. Balat was a student of Victor Horta, a key European art nouveau architect. Alphonse took this as an exercise to build a royal greenhouse in Larka.
For More Information Click Here

Rhododendron Garden
Eric next meets Thierry who is responsible for the RHODODENDRON GARDEN. Thierry, thank you so much for joining us. This is a beautiful woodland garden and, of course, there are many other plants and trees in here that are not rhododendrons. But the focus of this space is showing off all the different varieties of rhododendrons. Correct. And it's the perfect time to come here because it's in flower with many colors.
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Flower Theatre
We catch up with Manon once again. We're in a part of the garden that is called the FLOWER THEATER. And it looks like it was laid out to be more or less like an amphitheater but instead of being full of people it's filled with flowers. They wanted to have a garden where they could show it off without pine trees. The pine trees don't like wet roots so they had to think of a way to build a flower bed. So they put them higher, raised beds, and as you see the flowers are doing wonderfully here. This area was planted some years ago and has become really a mature garden, they are really happy with it.
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Plants Flower Theatre
Every season it's another view. Now they have the geraniums, before that lovely spring bulbs. So every time of the year one comes here it's changing. When Manon comes to visit this garden the gardeners are always like come, come, come, come you should look because now this is flowering and this is flowering.
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Show #20/5207. Meise Botanical Garden

Transcript of Show

In this episode GardenSMART visits one of the largest botanic gardens in the world and speaks with several outstanding gardeners about garden design and their amazing plant collections.

Belgium's second largest city and biggest port is ANTWERP. This charming city is the country's capital of cool and has long been a powerful magnet for everyone from fashion moguls to art lovers to diamond dealers. In the mid sixteenth century it was one of Europe's most important cities and home to baroque superstar painter Peter Paul Reubens. Antwerp contains an intriguing medieval heart with plenty of cafés, filled cobble lanes, a riverside fortress, and a truly impressive cathedral.

The Botanic Garden Meise is located on the grounds of Buchart Castle in the town of Meise in the province of Flemish Brabant. It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world with an extensive collection of living plants in addition to an herbarium of over three million specimens. In this episode we explore three of their impressive gardens, meet the gardeners charged with their care, and discover some unique and fascinating plants.

Manon Van Hoye is the executive in charge of communication and promotion. We first speak with Manon to learn about some of the HISTORY OF THE GARDENS. Eric thanks Manon for joining us. Eric is excited to visit Meise Botanical Gardens. Manon returns the compliment, she is happy GardenSMART is visiting. It's a beautiful day and will talk a bit about the history. They weren't always here. The tower is from the twelfth century and the rest was built years and years and years later. But the garden only was here just before World War II. Before the garden was in Brussels and even in Brussels it was moving around a bit, then it became too big and moved to another place, again it became too big and moved to another place, then at the end a king got involved who really wanted to expand in Brussels. Luckily the government decided to buy this beautiful domain from the royal family. The sister of the king used to live in this castle and she died in nineteen twenty-seven. This domain was bought by the government in nineteen thirty-nine, then after World War II, piece after piece it was moved from Brussels to this location. They started to build the greenhouse, a really nice, really big greenhouse. And they started to build the library as well as the herbarium collection. Slowly they started to have these many collections because it used to be a royal domain. Eric comments, this is one of the most expansive gardens in the world. Right? Yes. It is one of the largest botanical gardens, ninety-two hectares. With the green house of one hectare it's really enormous. One can easily spend the day here, wander around, go into the greenhouse half a day, wander around in the afternoon and then you still haven't seen everything.

1hectare = 2.47105 acres

Eric asks what Manon thinks would be some of the favorite GARDEN HIGHLIGHTS? Well one of the highlights is the beautiful castle, one can even go to the roof. There are expositions there where companies might present something. One can have a marriage here, it's really the center of the garden. But they also have the large greenhouse. And also a really cute little greenhouses built by the architect who built the large greenhouse in Meise. As well they have a magnificent magnolia collection and a really beautiful rhododendron road. They have a lot of oaks with some nice, old species that one can't find in a new botanic garden. Because this is such an old garden you really have these old trees that are wonderful. The combination of the park and the collections and the historic castle makes it truly memorable. This is a public garden and funded through tax dollars which is a huge advantage. The research component of this garden and what it contributes and what it is able to do is enormous. They not only have the public park, the impressive buildings, the scientific part, the library, one of the biggest European library of botanical books but also the herbarium with over four million species of plants. They are all digitalized so people from all around the world can go to the website and look up, really closely look at, the information because the photos are really, really sharp. Then they have scientists who really do a wonderful job. They all have their specialty, mostly Belgium flora, but also African flora because of their history and King Leopold. They're doing a wonderful job with mushrooms, involved with some projects in Africa where they have started to categorize all the mushrooms one can eat so instead of destroying the tropical forest, instead show how native people can make money from mushrooms, try to sell them, so, have the money instead of tearing down the tropical forest. So Meise has lots of aspects the public won't see and it makes this a really, really big botanical garden. It's a a wonderful, diverse place.

Stijn is one of the many gardeners that takes care of this amazing GREENHOUSE structure. Eric thanks Stijn for joining GardenSMART and asks him to tell us about this greenhouse. It is one of the most impressive glass structures Eric has ever seen in his life. It's enormous It was built in 1950, covers about a hectare and a half, built with steel, wood and glass. There are about fifty different environments in this house, really a lot of different greenhouses, culminating in one big building. Because of the building they are able to show off all the different types of plants.

Eric walked through earlier and saw the wonderful collections from all over the world. That is true, one can visit the plants of the world in one day. Eric asks Stijn to talk about some of the COLLECTIONS here. They have cactus collections, in the spring the glass house features spring flowers from U.S. but you can visit also in the winter and they will still have spring flowers in the winter. They have an evolution greenhouse, it's very important to see the evolution of the plants, where they come from and where they stay. Then they have the edible plants and their origination. They also have the Mediterranean greenhouse. The biggest area is devoted to the rainforest, it was the last renovated.

Every gardener has their own specialization. Eric wants Stijn to talk about his specialization because he thinks it fascinating. Stijn's specialization is ARACEAE, a family of monocotyledonous flowering plants borne on a type of inflorescence called spadix. To Stijn the most important plant of the araceae is the amorphophallus, commonly known as Zaminkand, a large genus of some 200 tropical and subtropical tuberous herbaceous plants from the Arum family, native to Asia, Africa, Australia and various oceanic islands. So he has a lot of amorphophallus to keep. Eric thinks it is is a fascinating plant. And Stijn has some wonderful examples. Last year Stijn had two of them flower. And that takes effort, because they must pollinate the plant. So now they have the first baby plants and also they have the seeds from the second pollination. It's such a rare event and a very special plant because it's protected, so the fact that they are able to have seed set and then make all these babies is actually very important for many other greenhouses. It's very important because the planting in nature is from Sumatra, a large Indonesian island west of Java know for its rugged tropical terrain, wildlife and smoldering volcanoes. There it is an endangered species because of the oil palm. They have cut the forest and the plant cannot survive there, so they keep them in the greenhouse and make a lot of babies to send to all the botanical gardens in the world. One thing that is fascinating about this plant, not only is the bloom fantastic, it's the biggest flower in all the world. In all the world it's the biggest flower. It's about two and a half meters. The plant itself is very unusual, it is a very primitive plant. Basically it's a big tuber and will produce every year one leaf, the leaf starts small but after a few years produces a leaf about six meters high by three meters in diameter. So it's quite big. After about nine to twelve years they have a flower. Then every year you have one year of flower the other year after you have the leaf. Because you have to grow a bulb. Eric thinks it is a fascinating world that Stijn lives in and thinks he picked the best specialization of all the greenhouse. Thank you so much Stijn.

We next visit Jeroen who is the gardener in charge of the HERBARIUM. Eric thanks Jeroen for visiting with us. Let's talk about this garden. The Herbarium is such an interesting place, especially for a horticulturalist because it's a collection of a very, very wide range of plants. What role does this garden serve in the broader garden? This is a systematic garden, the plants are divided into different families, it's important to point out that the plants on one side are the oldest in the evolution and when we go further in the garden they are younger in the evolution. The layout in the garden is going to be split up by very specific taxis. So there will be one genus in a row and it moves in an evolutionary fashion from the oldest plants to the newest plants. It's a wonderful way of getting a look into the way the plants have changed over time.

Eric would like to know about some of the PLANTS that Jeroen finds particularly interesting. First would be Aloysia citriodora. It's a very interesting plant, the smell of this flower is like lemon. They produce very small, white flowers from June through August. A very important use of this plant is that you can use the leaves of the plant to make tea. Interesting. What are some of the other plants that throughout the course of the year are exciting? Cynara cardunculus is a very important plant in this garden. It is from the sunflower family and one can eat the stems of the plant. They have a similar taste as an artichoke but it's a little bit bitter. There's a trick to make the stems of the cardunculus sweeter. In early spring you put a terra cotta pot over the plant. Since it's dark under the terra cotta pot you get bleached stems and they taste sweeter. So it's like white asparagus. Although tasty it can be a somewhat invasive plant, so keep that in mind.

One thing that is really important for the visitors of this garden and any garden that has an herbarium like this, is that they are able to see, throughout the course of the year, what is in bloom. This is a year round garden so they're always changing plants out throughout every single season. So one can get a sense of, in this region, when are the different plants blooming. Jeroen thinks it's very interesting to be able to see inside a given genus, what are the differences from species to species and it's a great way of actually learning about different plants and, of course, seeing what's going on throughout the course of the year in the garden.

In the center of the herbarium they have this beautiful GLASS GREENHOUSE. It's a really unusual structure. Eric would like for Jeroen to tell us a little bit about it. This is a greenhouse built by Alphonse Balat, the Royal architect of King Leopold II. Balat was a student of Victor Horta, a key European art nouveau architect. Alphonse took this as an exercise to build a royal greenhouse in Larka. This greenhouse was moved two or three times before it came here to Meise. It first was in Brussels, then Echo at the zoo, and then moved here. Wow, wonderful. It has a great story and is a really, really impressive structure. Thanks for sharing.

Eric next meets Thierry who is responsible for the RHODODENDRON GARDEN. Thierry, thank you so much for joining us. This is a beautiful woodland garden and, of course, there are many other plants and trees in here that are not rhododendrons. But the focus of this space is showing off all the different varieties of rhododendrons. Correct. And it's the perfect time to come here because it's in flower with many colors. It's a very beautiful place, a great collection. How large is the rhododendron garden? At least a hectare, it's large and is comprised of two pieces. In one part they cultivate rhododendrons, and then the other part, the other side, they are botanical. It makes a beautiful, a big garden. What are the differences between the different categories of rhododendrons? You have the native types and more of the cultivars, then inside of that there are a number of different sub-categories. What are the differences between the different types? They have the botanical species, plants one will find in North America, China, Japan, and then cultivators. They make hybrids out of them. So they have cultivar plants, beautiful flowers, flowers that are going to have a lot of color. With the botanical types or the native rhododendrons we see a lot of these really intense yellows, oranges, and reds. Many are deciduous and they are not bred, they may be more wild looking plants. When looking at the cultivated ones, they are bred for specific shapes and forms, for intense, heavy flowering. They play with colors, play with forms, they play with the nature of the flower. They have bigger flowers, they are back to nature. It's a beautiful place and have really enjoyed you showing it off. Thanks so much Thierry.

We catch up with Manon once again. We're in a part of the garden that is called the FLOWER THEATER. And it looks like it was laid out to be more or less like an amphitheater but instead of being full of people it's filled with flowers. They wanted to have a garden where they could show it off without pine trees. The pine trees don't like wet roots so they had to think of a way to build a flower bed. So they put them higher, raised beds, and as you see the flowers are doing wonderfully here. This area was planted some years ago and has become really a mature garden, they are really happy with it. It's a great display garden and reminds Eric of some of the very formal type gardens that one would see in say, France or in Italy. It's laid out almost as a giant circumference with wonderful bending beds. It invites the visitor to, kind of, meander through and to take their time. One really needs to take their time to discover the park.

Every season it's another view. Now they have the geraniums, before that lovely spring bulbs. So every time of the year one comes here it's changing. When Manon comes to visit this garden the gardeners are always like come, come, come, come you should look because now this is flowering and this is flowering. So if she comes stressed from her computer work it's wonderful, the fragrance, all the color. Not unlike the herbarium this is a very diverse garden that has year around interest also. And the pines provide a structure to the garden. Because we have a botanical spot there are more the cultivars. And many of the cultivars are old cultivars, from the nineteenth century. But if one wants to go to a part of the garden where there are newer cultivars, 1950, 1960 that too is available. They are are still trying to find more newer cultivars to really have a nice story to tell the public as they wander around this beautiful garden.

Manon thinks Eric has picked the perfect time of year to see all of these amazing peonies. This is a great collection. Some people like peonies too much, Manon might fall into that category, even as a little girl by the time she could go to the garden center and see all those different peonies with all their interesting names she fell in love immediately. And they have so many here, really beautiful peonies which means many happy returns for the public. Eric thanks Manon for her time and insight into this beautiful garden. We enjoyed visiting.

In this episode we strolled the grounds of a beautiful, historic botanical garden and learned a lot about some very rare and unusual plants. Please tune in next week as we GardenSMART.

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