Belgium 2011 - Part 1

The 2011 Conference and Meeting of the International Clematis Society in Belgium and southern Netherlands

This is the first of three informal reports I will write about the conference and garden tour of Belgium and southern Netherlands, made by the Society during one week in June 2011. We thank Horst Weihrauch and Ton Hannink for their work researching, planning, organizing and running the event. A comprehensive set of reports by attendees will be published in Clematis International 2012.

Please click on the following links for my Belgium 2011 Part 2and Belgium 2011 Part 3reports.

Belgium is known internationally for chocolates, for beer, and for lace (probably other things as well) but speaking personally, I had never associated Belgium with gardens. This visit proved just how wrong I was.

The Society made a short visit to the Netherlands in 2003, but with a couple of exceptions, the itinerary was completely different.

The meeting was based at the Hotel Corsendonk De Linde in Retie, a conference hotel conveniently located for many of our destinations. Registration was on Friday 10th June and by the end of the day some 70 attendees had checked in, ready for the first visits on Saturday.

As well as many old friends, it was particularly pleasing to welcome some new faces, including attendees from China, Russia and Turkey. And in spite of the distance involved, there were also a good number of members from the USA. To go straight to the second of my reports, please follow Belgium 2011 Part 2.

Day 1 - Gardens of Limburg, Belgium

Kasteel Hex

Kasteel Hex©Ken WoolfendenDay 1 and we boarded the coaches nice and early for the drive to Kasteel Hex, an 18th century chateau with surrounding gardens and grounds. But this was a special Festival of Rare Plants weekend at the chateau, with lots of stalls, plant sales by many nurseries, exhibitions, garden competition and lectures, including one this morning by the plantsman and author, Martyn Rix, titled "Clematis in China". I can't comment on the lecture as I took the opportunity to wander the grounds with my camera, but I hope to publish an enhanced transcript in the next journal.

Kasteel Hex potager©Ken WoolfendenOne of the most attractive areas for me was the potager, a area containing a number of small "allotment" plots with a mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. One got a very good view across these from the rose-covered balustrade.

Kasteel Hex potager©Ken WoolfendenAt one end there appeared to be a scarecrow competition and there were a wide selection of designs, from the more conventional to some very futuristic examples. Whether they scared the birds remains an unanswered question, though.

Clematis at Kasteel Hex©Ken WoolfendenWhilst there were not that many clematis in the gardens (unlike the plant sales area which included an impressive stand by Böttcher Clematis), I spotted this one, growing through low growing shrubs. It had no label so one can only guess what it was.

Lunch was a refreshing cold buffet served at the restaurant De Horne, just round the corner from Kasteel Hex and very handy since the next garden which we were to visit surrounds De Horne. In fact the inn is run by the son of Riet and Jean Vanormelingen, the owners of our next garden.

The Garden of Riet and Jean Vanormelingen

Vanormelingen garden©Ken WoolfendenVanormelingen garden©Ken Woolfenden
The first sight to greet you as you enter the garden (apart from an arch clad in clematis!) was this wonderfully trained fruit tree. I think it was a pear (fig?) but whatever it is, it has has obviously been painstakingly pruned and shaped to this near perfect form.

Vanormelingen garden©Ken WoolfendenThe garden was designed and created by the garden designer Dina Deferme, who's own garden we visited later in the programme, and much effort has gone into the detail. There were many beautiful, often quite amusing, sculptures in various places. I particularly liked the two women on the jetty over the pond, one dangling her feet in the water.

Vanormelingen garden©Ken WoolfendenThe pond setting was very pleasing, very green and calming, and there were various sitting areas from which one could enjoy the different views of the garden.

Vanormelingen garden©Ken WoolfendenI have already mentioned the clematis-clad arch, and there were a number of other clematis in this garden, always carefully positioned to show them off to their best. There was much discussion over one which formed a backdrop for a bench - very photogenic and used many times, I'm sure, for wedding and other celebratory photos for which I'm sure this garden is often used. But I've selected a nice combination which the general consensus said was C. 'Alba Luxurians' and C. 'Star of India'.

The Garden of Vic and Anne Janssen-Meyers

Janssen-Meyers garden©Ken WoolfendenThe last visit of the day would be different for each of the two coaches. One of the delights of these meetings is the opportunity to visit small (relatively speaking) private gardens, often unknown to the normal tourist. However one of the difficulties is that many could not fit all 70 of us at the one time. The solution for a number of these was for the two coaches to each go to a separate garden. It worked very well, and in the bar of an evening it was interesting to compare notes with people who had been on the other coach. Invariably, everyone was convinced they had visited the "best" garden.

Janssen-Meyers garden©Ken WoolfendenJanssen-Meyers garden©Ken Woolfenden
Vic and Anne Janssen-Meyers have a 2100 sq. meter (half acre) garden so they had plenty of scope to create many different areas, such as the small courtyard shown above and the brick planters to your right. There are also many little corners with pleasant plant surprises such as this clematis on an old wooden fence.

Janssen-Meyers garden©Ken WoolfendenI think it was during this visit that I first noticed the Belgium partiality for topiary and neatly clipped box hedges. This collection of box spheres is a classic example, but, as you will see thought all my reports, there are many, many more. Virtually without exception they all looked beautiful, but I wouldn't want the task of keeping them so well clipped.

Janssen-Meyers garden©Ken WoolfendenAll credit to Vic and Anne for their series of garden rooms though which one wanders. There was a nice feeling of space in this garden, it was a place to walk, occasionally sit (there always seemed to be a bench fairly close-by) and enjoy peace and calm, quite a feat when there were over thirty visitors.

And there was also a sense of fun, an attitude that it all shouldn't be taken too seriously but enjoyed for what it is, with groups of figures in various places. I'm sure I recognize one or two faces, aren't you?

Janssen-Meyers garden©Ken Woolfenden

Day 2 - Gardens in southern Netherlands

The Gardens in Demen

Demen garden©Ken WoolfendenA sunny start to the day as we headed into the Netherlands and the Gardens in Demen. They comprise some 16 different gardens, each with a theme, possibly colour, possibly genus, or possibly just showing off some wonderful planting and flowering combinations, such as the colourful bed shown to your left.

Demen garden©Ken WoolfendenWhite gardens create a sense of freshness and calm and even on a hot sunny morning, the white garden at Demen was no exception.

Demen garden©Ken WoolfendenBut Demen is not just flowers. There was a wild life pond and meadow at the far end of the grounds, and a beautifully tended vegetable garden. I loved this segmented design, beds of produce radiating from the centre with nice wide paths for access.

As we wandered around we noticed a number of clematis, including quite a few species. We spent some time discussing what they might be until Ton Hannink told us he'd supplied various species seedlings to Demen. Whatever, they were very beautiful. So also was this Dutch kitchen cabinet.
Demen garden©Ken Woolfenden Demen garden©Ken Woolfenden

Demen garden©Ken Woolfenden

The Gardens of Appeltern

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenThe second visit of the day was a total contrast to everything we'd seen so far.

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenAppeltern contains over 200 specimen gardens, from small courtyards to larger constructions.

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenAppeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenThe emphasis tends towards modern contemporary design and materials, though plants are certainly not forgotten. There were even quite a few clematis to be found in amongst some of them.

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenMany contain quite a lot of hard landscaping.

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenAppeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenWater was also a popular theme with the majority of garden contains either ponds, waterfalls, streams or vertical walls.

Appeltern gardens©Ken WoolfendenWhilst some of the gardens were quite severe and austere, there were some nice amusing features, such as these "green" table mats.

Appeltern gardens©Ken Woolfenden I find vertical planting an intriguing idea so I was interested to see this example. It contained a good selection of different plants, but also demonstrated how even this type of planting is not maintenance-free. There were a couple of bare areas where plants had died and, as yet, not been replaced.

Finally a couple of nice details that I spotted. Firstly a water guard, much more attractive than the grid mesh one often sees. The second was a rather nice wrought iron inset in a fence.
Appeltern gardens©Ken Woolfenden Appeltern gardens©Ken Woolfenden

Garden of Jan van Kuijk

For many years Jan van Kuijk and his wife, Marie Louise, ran a nursery from their "back garden" (I believe it had been a farm). The Society visited them in 2003 and I can remember people being very impressed at the very wide range of plants that they grew.

Jan van Kuijk©Ken WoolfendenJan and Marie Louise retired a few years ago and have now converted what was the nursery into a most amazing garden. Looking at their classic Dutch house, one would barely believe what lies behind it, though the planting in the front garden might give a clue, as do the glimpses around the side of the house. But walk round the back and one is confronted with planting that would do a botanic garden credit.

Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden
Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden
Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden
Where rows of the stock used to be there are now four separate garden areas, one including a large pond, plus a large and very productive vegetable patch.

Jan van Kuijk©Ken Woolfenden

The planting is beautiful, so natural, in fact probably "the best wild flower meadow I've ever seen"! Yet I'm sure it has been thought out very carefully, or perhaps I should say intuitively. Whatever, it is so obviously the garden of someone who knows plants and loves them all.

Next month I'll give you the second of my reports, which will cover a couple of private gardens, a nature walk and a day - and evening - in Boskoop. I leave you with the picture below (my thanks to Wim van Dam for the photo, of which I was totally unaware at the time) of myself in a typical pose, grappling with at least 4 cameras around my neck!

How many cameras?©Wim van Dam

If you would like to read either of my other two reports you can find them at Belgium 2011 Part 2 or Belgium 2011 Part 3.

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