Laeken's royal greenhouses welcome spring

Laeken's impressive royal greenhouses can only be visited for three weeks each year.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
03 April 2024 Wednesday 10:35
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Laeken's royal greenhouses welcome spring

Laeken's impressive royal greenhouses can only be visited for three weeks each year. This opening to the public coincides with the flowering season of the vast majority of its plants, many of them of great value due to their rarity and age, some prior to the time in which the complex was designed, the second half of the 19th century. .

The colorful variety of tropical vegetation, the exuberant architecture and its excellent location make the royal greenhouses of Laeken a perfect plan to start the most flowery season of the year.

The ideal glass palace is made up of monumental glass pavilions and domes with wrought iron structures decorated with floral and organic motifs, which extend over more than two hectares of total area, within the grounds of the royal castle of Laeken, where he lives. The Royal Family. Its interior is overflowing with very brightly colored vegetation.

It is made up of several spaces with microclimates – divided into tropical, subtropical and winter – specially designed to protect its plants from all over the world, but especially from Africa, where Belgium controlled the territory that is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The most impressive greenhouse is the Winter Garden. With a dome 25 meters high and 57 meters in diameter, it was the first to be built and was used as a space for political receptions. Thanks to its large size, Congolese palm trees grow inside without touching the top, which we will recognize from the outside because it culminates in a wrought iron crown.

Other galleries and thematic spaces connect with the Winter Garden, such as the orangery, the Diana greenhouse, or the Embarcadère greenhouse. All of them are home to exotic flowers and plants, such as medinillas – a shrub with beautiful pink flowers from the Philippines – or the most extensive and oldest collection of greenhouse camellias that exists, with more than 300 species.

To access from one greenhouse to another, security guards lead visitors through the corridors that link them, also with glass walls and filled with vegetation up to the ceiling. The contrast in heights between the galleries makes even more evident the magnitude of the size of the different rooms.

The construction of the royal greenhouses of Laeken began in 1873 and was carried out by the architect Alphonse Balat – who would mentor one of the pioneers of modernism, Victor Horta – for the Belgian king Leopold II. The use of metal and glass as the main materials of the complex's structure was pioneering in Europe and a clear precedent for art nouveau.

They were not completed until three decades after the beginning of the uprising and the monarch had to rely on two other architects after Balat's death. The imposing glass city is located in the gardens of the royal castle of Laeken, which today remains the residence of the country's royal family, and houses the world-famous Belgian Royal Botanical Collection.