Friday, December 9, 2011

European Trip Day 8

"Brewer of Ghent"




For our last full day in Europe, we drove a short distance from Antwerp to Ghent. The morning's business would not be plants, it would be art. We parked the car in the old center, the very old picturesque center, and were immediately greeted by an impressive statue of Jacob van Artevelde, the 14th century "Brewer of Ghent," also known as the "Wise Man." He was a political leader, having made his fortune in the weaving industry. Well, he wasn't so wise after all; he pissed off the pope and was excommunicated, then eventually was murdered by a mob.

Saint Bavo Cathedral

Saint Bavo Cathedral

Anyway, Ghent is a beautiful old city, still vibrant after many centuries, with old buildings and pretty canals. Our destination was the Saint Bavo Cathedral, over a thousand years old and home of the "Ghent Altarpiece," also known as the "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb." This altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers in the 1400's is considered one of the greatest works in western art. I longed to see it for many years, then found it to be more wonderful in person than I ever could have imagined. Obviously no photos were allowed, but those unfamiliar with it are encouraged to google and see what the fuss is about. There was a lot of additional art in this old building, including a sprawling "Saint Bavo Entering the Cathedral" by Rubens.
Honestly, the primary motivation for me to attend the International Maple Symposium was not maples and other trees, it was the art. I should confess that on day one, en route to the nurseries in southern Netherlands, we stopped at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague to see Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," a number of Rembrandt's, a van Gogh and much more. It was all housed in an elegant building with Vermeer's beautiful girl pictured in front. So while Buchholz Nursery paid for a plant trip, a little fun on the side was irresistible.


Strangely enough, even after seeing blood pouring out of the mystic lamb in the Ghent Altarpiece, we were hungry. Crossing the cathedral square, we entered a little café where Phil fulfilled his tourist's requirement and ate a plate of Belgian waffles. Then we went in search of the Ghent University Botanic Garden.

Cornus tonkinensis

Cornus hongkongensis

Pinus nigra ssp. maritima

The climate in Ghent is clearly more mild than in Oregon. Throughout the trip, and also here, I would see happy trees in the USDA zone 8 category. New to me were two Cornus: hongkongensis from SE China and tonkinensis from Vietnam. Actually, most everything was new to me, since my photos are now sorted alphabetically, I can't remember for sure what was taken outside in the small garden, and what was taken inside the fascinating greenhouses. Certainly from outside was Pinus nigra ssp. maritima, the "Corsican Pine," with fantastic bark. So was the ubiquitous Sorbus alnifolia, which we saw in nearly every arboretum, and Sapindus mukorossi with its butter-yellow leaves, native to Asia. Also outside was Celtis laevigata, the "Mississippi Hackberry" in the Ulmaceae family, notable for its gray furrowed bark. First seen in Wespelaar, I encountered again Styphnolobium japonicum 'Pendulum' which graced the walkway. I've never seen this plant in America, and just as well since nobody can pronounce it anyway.

Styphnolobium japonicum 'Pendulum'

Styphnolobium japonicum 'Pendulum'

Celtis laevigata
Sorbus alnifolia

Sapindus mukorossi

Inside it was warm and muggy with plant smells strong and heady. That putrid odor was coming from…which plant? And keep your hands close, as many trunks were guarded with spines, like Opuntia neoargentina. Encephalartos horridus really was horrible. Flowers were nearly finished on Crinum asiaticum, but I loved the leaf pattern, and also the leaves of Neodypsis decaryi. Ferns and strange things like Salvinia auriculata were in the pool, and I imagined piranhas could be swimming beneath. Podocarpus macrophyllus displayed lush foliage and Philodendron x 'Lynette' was in flower. What an amazing, smelly world this was, about which I know so little.

Opuntia neoargentina
Encephalartos horridus

Crinum asiaticum

Crinum asiaticum

Neodypsis decaryi

Salvinia auriculata

Podocarpus macrophyllus
Philodendron x 'Lynette'

Cibotium schiedei

University of Ghent Botanic Garden

Food plants were fun to see. Vanilla, coffee, tea and others make you realize that we take so much for granted with what we eat and drink. Theobroma cacao, the chocolate plant, is thought to have originated in the Amazon region, then transported by humans into Central America and Mexico. Theobroma is from Greek, meaning "Food of the Gods," and was first encountered by Europeans in 1502, by Columbus and his crew. Indeed, before leaving the Bavo Cathedral square, I entered a chocolate shop to purchase a mixed box for my most worthy (and addicted) wife. The sweet proprietress assisted me to choose the proper assortment, then announced that "now you will be safe to return home."

Theobroma cacao

Back outside Aloe speciosa showed off its nice trunk, as did Yucca carnerosana, I was appreciating the Agapanthus and nearly stepped on interesting mushrooms on the lawn. Really, nothing here, including the mushrooms, had any value for Buchholz Nursery. However, my appreciation of Flora's infinite bounty was greatly increased by visiting this special place. I could imagine to live in Ghent, probably alone as an old man with regrets and bittersweet memories, with my ashes finally tossed into a canal, or secretly spread throughout the botanic garden.

Aloe speciosa
Yucca carnerosana

Agapanthus species


We had a half mile walk back to our car; out of this plant and art world, faced with the reality of a ten hour flight, back to our families and work.

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