On The Road in Brussels: Botanic Garden Meise
Brussels is a busy and vibrant city known for it’s ornate Gothic architecture and regal cosmopolitan vibe. As the headquarters of the European Union, it’s got a lot to offer the idle traveler by way of cafes, shopping, and of course– chocolate. But those in need of a quick pick-me-up amid the city’s bustle should consider heading to the Botanic Gardens Meise, a lovely garden getaway in this trilingual city. Located just outside the city proper, this destination garden is one of the largest botanic gardens in the world, with 18,000 plants species that have grown in the garden’s current location since its inception in 1958 (the Botanic Garden Meise was originally founded in the 18th century).
Two hours is good amount of time to enjoy and rejuvenate in this garden, a visit to which can otherwise be an all-day affair: the property is 277 public acres, but the experience of going there makes you feel like you are visiting a private estate. There is a charm that belays its size: the Botanic Gardens Meise boast significant, meticulously-labeled trees that grace the grounds with a subtle regalia. (During Garden Collage’s trip to Belgium we tucked into the bushes a few times to check the names of those we did not recognize…) The Belgian weather is extremely garden-friendly: lots of rain and moderate temperatures make this area a perfect growing environment, and the results are evident in the mix of magnolia, hydrangea, rhododendron, maple and wild rose collections that can be found on site.
There is much to see but the GC team particularly enjoyed the 13 interconnecting Glasshouses called the Plant Palace, which represents various world climates from desert to Mediterranean to tropical to rainforest. The spaces are intimate and yet the representation of flora is extensive. A favorite, the Victorian Room, has a lovely pond of giant water lilies (supposedly the largest in the world) and an assortment of hanging carnivorous plants surrounded by various palms and other water plants. There’s a casual vibe to the space, so you don’t feel at all like you are in a refined institution setting. An added plus is that the signage is excellent and easy to navigate in English.
Depending on the season, the Botanic Gardens Meise can be a great place grab a coffee, a beer, or a bite to eat at either the winter outdoor lakeside café or in the Orangery, which was originally built in 1818 to overwinter tender plants like the orange trees that overlook the walled garden. The walled garden is also a nice area to wander, and again feels very personal– very much like a secret garden, with simple paths guiding you amongst playfully-planted flowers. My favorite aspect of this section was the way they planted Sedum, using a grid of rectangles planted with different varieties of the plant in each one. Like the botanic garden itself, the space offers a lot of walking– but in case you are in a hurry or cannot do the walking there is a train that makes local stops throughout. On foot or otherwise, this is a garden that cannot be missed.