This is the final post about the PGG study tour to Belgium. Please click here if you would like to read the previous post in the series. Enjoy!
After spending such a wonderful time at Herkenrode I wasn’t sure how well the final visit of the study tour would fare in comparison. I was in no way disappointed however, the best had definitely been saved til last! The history of Arboretum Wespelaar is very interesting, as our guide for the afternoon, Joke Ossaer, told us.
Successive families going back to the 14th century had established their residence in Wespelaar. The first residents to create a garden were Pietro and Alde-gonde Proli, Italian bankers established in Antwerp (1735-1784). As usual in those days, the estate was designed in the regular, geometric French style. Their son, Balthasar Proli, would eventually sell the estate, which was then purchased by members of the third generation of the owners of the Artois breweries in Leuven.
This was the time of the fashion for the more naturalistic landscape park, in the English style. With the help of their advisor Mathieu Verlat and their landscape architect Ghislain Joseph Henri (1754-1820), they completely modified the formal gardens to create one of the finest landscape gardens of the country. The first exotic trees, resulting from the discoveries in America, were planted among the meandering paths and classical follies of the park. They included: Liquidambar styraciflua, Liriodendron tulipifera and Juglans nigra.
Callicarpa in focus with Carya glabra in background
Most of the original trees have gone, but majestic plane trees, clumps of copper beech and sweet chestnut can be seen in today’s park to the west of the arboretum. In the late 19th century, the estate passed on to the Marnef, Willems and finally, de Spoelberch families, now in their fifth generation. Starting in 1983, trees were planted in the great meadow of the future arboretum. Cattle had grazed and trampled this ground for centuries and trees did not do well until drainage was established in 1985 and the gently undulating surface was created in order to keep the roots of trees well above the water table. They have thrived in these ideal conditions ever since.
Close up of Franklinia alatamaha
The Arboretum is today owned and managed by the Foundation Arboretum Wespelaar, which was specifically set up to manage the 20 hectares of the botanical collections of Philippe de Spoelberch’s estate in Wespelaar. It has become a world class Arboretum and scientific institution. Throughout the creation of the Arboretum inspiration was found in some of the great arboretas of the world, such as Westonbirt in England and the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.
Views of the lakes
It is situated to the north of his private garden Herkenrode and in April 2011 the Arboretum opened to the public.
The Arboretum holds a specialized collection of trees and shrubs from around the world, hardy in Belgium. The collection represents 2000 different taxa, of which 169 appear on the Red List of threatened plants. The arboretum is well known for its extensive collections of Acer, Magnolia and Rhododendron as well as some less familiar genera such as Tilia, Carpinus, Franklinia, Lindera, Stewartia, etc.
For me the first impression of botanical gardens is how well they are maintained and the joy of finding everything clearly labelled. My notebook was bursting with plant names by the end of our visit to Wespelaar, it was as follows:
Pycnanthemum virginianum (mountain mint)
Ilex crenata ‘Green Lustre’ (known as a Halloween plant because of its black berries)
Franklinia alatamaha (propagated by cuttings at Wespelaar, no seed)
Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’
Asimina triloba (paw-paw)
Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (leaves just like Aconitum)
Acer palmatum ‘Koto-no-ito’ (unusually narrow leaves)
Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’
Diospyros lotus (date plum)
Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’
Euonymus hamiltonianus ‘Coral Charm’
Euptelea pleiosperma (good ornamental tree)
Gleditsia sinensis (massive spiky thorns! Used in Chinese medicine)
Hydrangea aspera ssp. sargentiana
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Brussels’ Lace’
Ilex opaca ‘Longwood Gardens’
Magnolia obovata x tripetala
Malus ‘Golden Hornet’
Styrax japonicus ‘Wespelaar’
Tetradium daniellii Hupehense Group (dark fruits in autumn which look like elephant feet)
Tilia henryana ‘Arnold Select’ (prickly outline to leaves)
Paulownia ‘Purple Splendour’
I was left speechless by a massive foxglove tree, the Paulownia ‘Purple Splendour’ (tomentosa x fortunei) was only 25 years old yet was over 20 feet high. I’ve never seen a Paulownia so huge before. The presentation of the entire place was pristine, the same as Herkenrode. Both were treasure troves of delights, I couldn’t fault a single thing. The staff clearly have their work cut out to keep the place as fresh and vibrant as possible, I was blown away by the immense detail and variety of Wespelaar – it was amazing.