This is the third and last of my informal reports on the visit by the Society to Belgium and the Netherlands in June 2011. Click on the following links for my Belgium 2011 Part 1 and Belgium 2011 Part 2 reports.
This report will cover the last three days. Note that for one of these days our two coaches followed totally different itineraries. On the other two days some of the places visited were different for each coach, and some were the same. Here I feature only the placed that I visited, but our next journal will comprehensively report on them all.
Day 5 - Gent
Nursery BöttcherOur first call of the day was to Nursery Böttcher. The other coach visited the garden, De Groene Gedachte.
Some of us had already met Catherine Böttcher as she had a stall and display at the Kasteel Hex show which we visited on our first day. Due to her rural location, Catherine came to meet the coach and guide us to the closest place where we could park our coach, about a 5 minute walk from her nursery.
Her nursery is not huge (although she is in process of extending it) but it is packed with clematis. They were arranged in neat rows, but seemed to use an indexing system known only to Catherine, which meant that if you wanted a particular cultivar it was very difficult to find where it might be, other than ask Catherine herself.
On the other hand it also meant that casual "browsing" along the rows could be very rewarding - you never knew what you might come across!
It was a very hot morning and the refreshment marquee gave some welcome respite from the sun. But that didn't stop business and when the time came to say our goodbyes, there was a steady stream of people making their way back to the coach with armfuls of clematis.
GentAfter a short drive we were dropped in Vlasmarkt, the old flax market of Gent. It was but a short walk (once one had worked out which direction) from here to the city centre.
I like Gent. We have visited once before and soon found our way to the only harbour area, to my mind one of the most picturesque areas of this picturesque city. But there are plenty of other pleasant streets and squares where one can sit, have a beer and watch the world go by.
There is also a wide range of architectural styles to be seen in the buildings of Gent. One I particularly like is the Socialistische Werkersvereenigingen (Socialist Workers Association building), built around 1900 in Vrijdagmarkt.
Day 6 - BruggeToday our two coaches went their separate ways, we travelled towards Brugge whilst the other coach made a tour of some gardens and nurseries.
Garden of Ides and Annemie DehaeneIdes and Annemie Dehaene have been members of the Society for many years. We stopped outside a pleasant looking house in a suburban neighbourhood and were greeted by Ides and Annemie. It was only after passing down the side of the house that one started to get an idea of the full extent of their garden, the size and the wonderful array of plants and beautiful arrangements they have made.
The first plant to greet us was a fascinating C. ranunculoides which had come from Ton Hannink. Very rare and apparently quite difficult to care for (this is entrusted to Annemie who checks on it at least twice every day!) it looks very strong, standing over 2 metres tall with thick stems and coarse leaves.
The garden naturally divides into a number of areas, many reflecting the way it has been developed by acquisition of additional land over the years.
Wherever you stood, there were beautiful plants to admire, But you would also get glimpses of something "just over there", making you want to investigate further.
There was a fine example of C. 'Jan Fopma' which I couldn't resist. A small pond gave an air of tranquillity. A deep flower bed, one of a number, was full of all sorts of plants, including quite a few clematis growing through the other shrubs and peeking out in various places.
Ides Dehaene has a collection of American species clematis which I found very interesting, for example this C. morefieldii.
In spite of intermittent drizzle it was quite difficult to tear ourselves away from this wonderful garden - so many plants and all beautifully presented. We thank Ides and Annemie for sharing their pride and joy with us.
BruggeBrugge is a beautiful city and you really need a number of days to do it justice, so our few hours could only allow a glimpse of the classic Flemish architecture.
It is also a much visited city and even the grey and damp weather didn't seem to reduce visitor numbers. But it does have some very good chocolate shops!
Day 7 - LimburgThis morning we visited two neighbouring gardens, T'Zonhoff and Vandecruys-Frederix
Vandecruys-FrederixQuite a large garden divided into a number of rooms, each with a different theme, this was a garden to be used and enjoyed. There's a lot of work gone into creating a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere and it worked for me. There were also quite a few clematis.
The Belgium penchant for topiary was in evidence, but relatively restrained such that it complemented the planting rather than dominated it. A large pond added to the air of tranquillity.
There were some amusing aspects, such as a pair of wicker geese grazing on the lawn.
Although neighbours, this garden was quite different to the previous one.To me T'Zonhoff is about displaying and exhibiting plants and garden art. Statues and other artefacts are carefully positioned for maximum effect, for example these "flying fish" above the pond.
There were quite a lot of clematis. But the other passion of the Reniers-Mignolet family is the cultivation of delphiniums and there was a special area set aside to display this collection.
Open Air Museum and Arboretum Bokrijk
Covering some 550 hectares, this museum contains a wide range of old buildings collected from all the provinces of Belgium. The collection includes complete farmyards with house, barns and other out buildings, a church, school, forge, bake-house and of course a windmill.
In a number of these buildings, people in period costume enacted life as it would have been lived. They were happy to answer questions on all aspects of life of these bygone eras.
If we come back to this area I would really like to revisit this Museum, there's a lot more to see.
The last visit of our meeting in Belgium was to the garden of garden architect, Dina Deferme. The second coach visited the garden of Erik and Lieve Hermans-Joachims.
One of the gardens we visited on our first day was De Horne in Vechmaal, owned by Riet and Jean Vanormelingen. Their garden was designed by Dina Deferme.
This is a large and beautifully presented garden, which might expect as in many ways it is the showcase of Dina's skill. But it is not just a garden to be viewed, it had a lovely feel of a place to be and be used.
It divides into various areas, the front garden with lawn, a topiary garden, flower beds, a summer pergola, a large pond and more. Dina is obviously very versatile in the planting styles she uses and seems to easily adapt them to the natural surroundings and features.
It was a great choice for our final visit. Whilst everyone will have different favourite gardens, I believe everyone came away happy and content that our garden visits had finished on a high note.
Gala DinnerThat may have been the final garden but there was one more event, and it was a surprise. In fact, even our organisers didn't know all the details of what we were about to experience.
We were told to be on the coaches as we were going out to dinner, but not told where we were going. After a short journey we arrived at Priorij Corsendonk, an imposing brick building originating in 1395. It was a monastery for 400 years but is now a hotel and conference centre. We enjoyed a drink in the vaulted crypt (now a bar) before being shown to the imposing dining room.
After sitting down it was explained that we were to experience dinner as would have been done by the monks, no cutlery other than a large wooden spoon. But before we could start there was one more thing to do - don the brown robes each of us had.
What followed was one of the most unusual, yet fun, dinners that I have experienced for a long, long time, if ever. The one-piece robes were hilarious and just about everyone joined in the spirit of the event, some possibly more so than others!
At one point we were shown outside as the room was cleared, where we clustered around a warming brazier, but also warmed ourselves with a selection of "monastic" spirits.
The evening was a huge success. Even Horst Weihrauch, who had booked the venue, hadn't known exactly what would occur.
All too soon it was time to go as one coach made relayed us back to our hotel. It was a great final evening and a most memorable way to finish a spectacularly successful event.
And finallyLooking back on the event, I had not realized how much interest there is for all things horticultural in Belgium. By combining Belgium and southern Netherlands, we experienced a packed week of visits, covering a wide variety of styles and content. And the final dinner provided a very fitting end to the programme.
I leave you as usual with a group photo, taken at the Nursery van Zoest, though this time it features someone not usually "in frame". See if you can spot who I mean.
You can click on the picture for a higher resolution image but be warned, it is approximately 2 Mbytes.
If you would like to read either of my other two reports you can find them at Belgium 2011 Part 1 or Belgium 2011 Part 2.
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