Just outside the pretty town of Tervuren, Belgium is the Arboretum Tervuren, a landscape park of 250 acres. Over 450 species of trees are grouped in geographical fashion, made to represent a forest type. No tree was ever planted singly, but always as a group, to represent a true forest. Of course Belgium weeds make up part of the forest undercover. But the purpose was to test trees from around the world to determine their use for Belgium forestry.
Most of the trees were planted in the early 1900's, with emphasis on larger species, so today there are many wonderful specimens present. Thanks to King Leopold II for donating some of his property in 1902.
So, no cultivars here. We walked on the soggy turf, up the hills and down the hills, proof that the country is not totally flat. We were too early for autumn color for some species, too late for others, but right on time for a lot. Many Europeans complain that the "Sugar Maple," Acer saccharum, is not dependable for fall color, but they were perfect here. We grow one cultivar, 'Monumentale', an incredibly narrow form. Others in our garden include 'Apollo' and 'Sweet Shadow', but these originate in the restricted, patented realm of the shade-tree growers.
The "Silver Maples," Acer saccharinum, were larger than the "Sugars," with broad massive canopies. They can tolerate a large range of climates, and can be used to hybridize with other species, producing more refined and garden-worthy trees like Acer x freemanii. An interesting note is that squirrels will eat the buds of the Silver Maple in winter, especially when they can't remember where they hid their acorns and nuts. The little rascals have been a problem in my nursery as well, eating leaves off the fresh palmatum grafts, being especially fond of 'Bihou' and 'Orange Dream'.
Identification and labeling in this park was sparse, and our guide told us that we couldn't necessarily trust any label that was present. That could be said about any plant collection today. I recall an incorrect label on a conifer in the famous rock garden at Kew in England. Not that I'm so smart, but it was absolutely wrong, absolutely. Today, I can't even remember what the conifer was, but I clearly remember its place in the garden. Thinking the matter was rather important, I reported to a man who was working nearby. He gave me a look of incredulous scorn, and how dare I suggest that the holy Kew could ever have a mistake. That was eight years ago and I suspect the incorrect label remains.
Anyway, back to Tervuren. Acer spicatum, the "Mountain Maple," was rather scrappy, as the top had died, but new shoots arose from the base. Two species of "hickory," Carya cordiformis and Carya laciniosa, both from eastern North America, were impressive specimens. The laciniosa species features shaggy bark on mature trees. Catalpa ovata, a Chinese species, was new for me. Platanus occidentalis had a beautiful trunk and an unknown Aesculus species stretched high to find some light.
The best "forest" at Tervuren was the "Monkey Puzzle" trees. I asked our guide if seedlings germinated, so that the forest might expand. The answer was that the squirrels ate the seeds, so they grew seedlings in the nursery and then transplanted them into the grove. The species name of Araucaria araucana refers to the native people who ate the seed nuts. I tasted one too, and it wasn't bad. Everybody loves a Monkey Puzzle: the interesting branchlets dangle to the ground, and the trunk can feature patterned scales. I am unaware of any cultivars of Araucaria araucana.
Our shoes were muddy, but finally our coats came off by mid-day. I had a good time, but left in a bittersweet mood, realizing that I would probably never return to Tervuren and the special forests.
European Trip Day 7 Afternoon
|National Botanic Garden of Belgium|
|National Botanic Garden of Belgium|
The next event was a visit to the National Botanic Garden of Belgium in Meise, just north of Brussels. Our group split in two; our choice of guides was Dirk De Meyere or Manon Van Hoye. Pretty Manon, in her wellies, was my obvious choice.
|Acer palmatum 'Nicholsonii'|
There was a decent amount of Acers--after all we were the International Maple Society--and this garden had some cultivars of palmatum, as well as well-tended species. Acer palmatum 'Nicholsonii' was in brilliant color, and so was Acer x freemanii, but here it was yellow, unlike the orange-red of other gardens. An old Acer platanoides displayed an attractive trunk, as did a Betula pendula and a Pinus pinaster.
Taxodium distichum thrived by the lake, showing off its knees (also known as pneumatophores) which are hollow, and may or may not assist in providing oxygen to the roots. Why the label classified the variety as "var. imbricatum" is unknown to me. We grow the popular cultivars, 'Peve Minaret' and 'Peve Yellow' (see Day 2 at Piet Vergeldt Nursery).
I don't know if Populus wilsonii, from China, is hardy to Flora Wonder, but it showed the prettiest leaf of all in this trip. Hillier describes it as "A highly ornamental, medium-size species…bright sea-green in colour."
The National Garden was a beautiful place with its lake, castle, statues and old trees. After a long walk we returned to the entrance gate. Looking back into the garden were two rows of Phoenix canariensis, the "Canary Island Palm," in impressive boxes. But this was it, the end of our symposium and post-tour. We said our goodbyes to Manon and our fellow attendees. Phil and I would have only one more day on our European Trip, and our plan was to spend it in the magical city of Ghent.
|Buchholz visiting with the silent people|