This is the penultimate post about the PGG study tour to Belgium. Please click here if you would like to read the previous post in the series. Enjoy!
The last day of the study tour was totally different to the first. It was a bright, warm, late autumn day, Belgium certainly left me with a stunning lasting impression.We visited Herkenrode at the start of the day, which, similar to the places we visited yesterday, was connected to Arboretum Wespelaar, which we visited in the afternoon. Herkenrode is the private garden of Philippe de Spoelberch, who is a passionate dendrologist and also the owner of Stella Artois. Our guide for the morning was Christophe Crock, Head Gardener at Herkenrode, who explained the history to us.
The estate was established in the 18th century by Jean-Baptiste de Herckenrode, mayor of the city of Leuven, who built the manor house and park in the French style. Later, it passed onto the Onyn de Chastre and then to the van der Stegen family. Sometime around 1850 the garden was modified to suit the taste of the time and to adopt the more natural lines of the English landscape park. The property was purchased by Guillaume de Spoelberch in 1923, owner of the nearby park of Wespelaar.
It is today the home of his grandson, Philippe de Spoelberch, who extended the park into the nearby woodland area. The garden occupies some 10 hectares of the estate, surrounded by further woodland and the Arboretum to the north. The present house was built in 1964 by Francis Bonaert in the 18th century Mosan style. Since 1966, and over the next 40 years, Philippe de Spoelberch established the dendrological collections. These would concentrate on the genera Rhododendron, Acer and later Stewartia, Magnolia, Rosa and Hydrangea.
Running out of space he started in 1986 the Arboretum to the north of the garden. The Arboretum, set on 20 hectares of old meadows and woodland, contains large collections of Magnolia, Tilia, Fraxinus, Quercus, Prunus, Malus, Betula, Carpinus and other rare trees and shrubs. Many early trees and shrubs at Herkenrode came from famous nurseries such as Hillier’s and Esveld.
A great number of plants were also propagated from cuttings and seed. Further botanical explorations around the world resulted in the introduction of many plants from known wild provenance. Herkenrode is a typical example of the Belgium-Flemish style landscape architecture, taking the best features and influences from English, French and Italian garden styles. A lot of green planting is used, which works well against the (almost permanent!) grey skies.
More autumn colour
4 full time staff work in the garden which is open to the public for 5 days each year, similar to the National Garden Scheme in the UK. There is a large amount of lawn at Herkenrode, which is mown once a week in peak season. It is high grass in summer with paths mown into it – everything is cut completely when it’s looking tired in autumn. The soil at Herkenrode has excellent drainage, which allows the trees to develop well established roots.
Bamboo canes are staked around trees to stop deer from rubbing against them – they don’t like the smoothness of the canes which is why this method protects the trees so well. The seed grown trees and shrubs at Herkenrode are selected for strong autumn colour and shape from large batches (the rest are discarded) which is why the displays in autumn are so amazing.
It was a joy to witness the absolutely breath-taking autumn colour, the collection of Liquidambar styraciflua near the lakeside was particularly awesome. I made notes of numerous plants which caught my eye, they were:
Oxydendrum arboreum (sole species in the genus Oxydendrum)
Magnolia macrophylla (big leaved magnolia)
Camellia sasanqua (autumn flowering camellia)
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’
Calycanthus chinensis (Chinese sweetshrub)
Magnolia officinalis var. biloba
Kalopanax septemlobus (Tree Aralia)
Viburnum setigerum (tea Viburnum)
Euonymus grandiflorus ‘Red Wine’
Rosa roxburghii f. normalis (Chestnut rose)
Franklinia alatamaha (on the Red List, extinct in the wild)
Sapium japonicum (Japanese tallow tree)
Illicium floridanum (similar to Chinese star anise, very toxic shrub)
Cardiocrinum giganteum (giant Himalayan lily)
Acer davidii (has totally horizontal roots)
The balance between woodland and garden was spot on, it’s the exact type of garden I can imagine myself working in in the future. Every single area was immaculately kept, from the super neat lawns and hedges to the perfectly mulched beds and borders. I was highly tempted to leave my CV with them on the way out!