Once a year, the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken, just outside Brussels, are opened to the public. I’d been hearing about them for years but had never seen them–until now. I have to say, I was completely unprepared for the experience. I had seen pictures of the main pavilion, a fantastical nineteenth-century iron-and-glass construction with a central dome. I had no idea that it was just one part of an extensive complex covering acres of ground and encompassing one interconnected glass structure after another.
I stood in line with hundreds of other visitors, men and women, young and old, whole families shuffling through the king’s private gardens all together. It felt a bit strange, especially as an American, to be gawping at spoils of royal wealth and privilege that are still owned by the royals in question. It’s hard to imagine how such a magnificent gardens could be the property of one family, and harder still to imagine such gardens being built without immense royal wealth.
The main building with its huge dome is filled with towering palm trees and all manner of tropical plants and ferns. Another greenhouse is filled with nothing but azaleas in every color imaginable. Throughout the complex, there are Victorian touches like marble statues and giant urns. The various buildings are connected by long glass galleries lined with yet more flowers.
My favorite part of the greenhouses was the walking through the galleries covered with fuchsias. They hang down from the ceilings, creating a fairyland of greenery and flowers like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I wanted to stay there forever, but the lines of visitors kept pushing forward, and I went with the flow.
The gardens are also open in the evenings. Next year, I plan to go back to see the greenhouses lit from within like giant lanterns. Maybe I’ll be able to get lost in the dark, and linger in the fuchsia gallery for hours…