King Leopold II of Belgium is most well known for creating the Congo Free State in the late 19th century. When Leopold was not establishing colonial settlements and exploiting native populations, he was building lavish royal estates punctuated with tremendous heated greenhouses.
The most impressive of Leopold’s creations in Brussels is the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken on the grounds of the Palace of Laeken built between 1884 and 1886. It is an extravagant creation, complete with thirty pavilions connected to the prize of the complex, the Winter Gardens.
Towering over the grounds, the beautiful glass dome of the garden shines royally above all else. Inside, the beauty is no less impressive. Exotic tropical plants make up a sizable portion of the gardens. However, the standouts of the collection are the azaleas and geraniums, which, when in bloom, brightly light up the corridors of the garden, catching the sunlight and pleasing every side of the senses.
Oddly enough, the impressive Winter Gardens of the complex are also called the Greenhouse of Congo and feature many tropical plants the king undoubtedly encountered during his time in Africa. This strange link between the king’s colonized territory and his excess in Belgium starkly contrast, and highlight the grim realities of the colonization Leopold essentially popularized in the late 1800s.
Keeping with the exclusive and royal nature of the gardens, the Laeken Greenhouses are only open for two weeks per year in late April and early May. Fortunately, those two weeks usually fall in line with the majority of flowers blooming in the Winter Gardens.
Know Before You Go
Easily accessible from the city center of Belgium.
- Belgian Tourist Office: Royal Greenhouses of Laeken: http://www.opt.be/informations/tourist_attractions_laeken__royal_greenhouses_of_laeken/en/V/17486.html
- Wikipedia: Royal Greenhouses of Laeken: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Greenhouses_of_Laeken