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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Belgium

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Belgium

April 17, 2017

There is a painterly quality to nearly everything that comes from Belgium. It’s a region that for centuries has felt the influence of its opinionated neighbors. In almost any Belgian garden there is evidence of geometrical classicism (from France); the springtime exuberance of the Italian Renaissance, and the naturalism of English cottage gardens. The result? Gardens you would not see anywhere else in the world. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Sandwiched between the northern and southern climates of Europe, Belgium is home to gardeners who for centuries have tested other cultures’ ideas–to create an inimitable style. Here are 10 ideas to steal from Belgium–from dark, moody paint colors to velvety green backdrops–that will give any garden a luxurious Old Masters air:

Paint with Green

The Castle of Freÿr in Belgium is the former summerhouse of the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin. Photograph by Stephane Mignon via Flickr.
Above: The Castle of Freÿr in Belgium is the former summerhouse of the Dukes of Beaufort-Spontin. Photograph by Stephane Mignon via Flickr.

Use the color green as a backdrop. Dense foliage has the same effect as a velvet lining in a jewelry box. Everything else you plant will pop out like a diamond displayed on rich fabric.

Put on a Springtime Show

Photograph via Villa Augustus.
Above: Photograph via Villa Augustus.

Nothing says winter’s over like a clump or two of spring bulbs–tulips, daffodils, alliums, hyacinths, and more tulips is our recommendation. See 10 Favorite Tulips to Plant This Fall for inspiration and Gardening 101: How to Plant a Bulb for step-by-step instructions.

Plant an Orchard

Photograph courtesy of Hex. Kasteel van Heks&#8\2\17; edible garden was created \240 years ago in Heers (about 70 miles southeast of Antwerp). &#8\2\20;The vegetable garden provides in particular a selection of historical table fruit&#8\230;pears such as Doyonnnée or Comtesse de Paris are among the most beloved,&#8\2\2\1; notes Hex. For more, see A Visit to Belgium&#8\2\17;s Most Beautiful Edible Garden.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Hex. Kasteel van Heks’ edible garden was created 240 years ago in Heers (about 70 miles southeast of Antwerp). “The vegetable garden provides in particular a selection of historical table fruit…pears such as Doyonnnée or Comtesse de Paris are among the most beloved,” notes Hex. For more, see A Visit to Belgium’s Most Beautiful Edible Garden.

In the 18th and 19th century, few Flemish gardeners could afford the luxury of purely ornamental plants. Instead, they grew fruit. Large gardens had orchards. Small gardens had a dwarf fruit tree or three. In addition to the fruit, a lovely side benefit of fruit trees is that they blossom in spring and gnarled tree trunks and branches take on a dramatically sculptural look when covered in snow.

Autumn is the best time to plant fruit tree; for step-by-step instructions see DIY: Plant a Fruit Tree to Bloom Next Spring.

Cover Walls with Espalier

Above: Pear trees fan-trained in a small city garden bear fruit. For more, see Steal This Look: A Walled Belgium Garden. Photograph via Archi-Verde.

Fan-trained fruit trees take up little space in city gardens but blossom and bear fruit exuberantly.  For more ideas about how to cover a fence with something green, see Design Sleuth: Vines as Espalier.

Use Hedges for Definition

Photograph by Pedro via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Pedro via Flickr.

In Belgium, where the terrain is a rolling flat expanse without natural features such as mountains or valleys, creating a relationship between a garden and the surrounding landscape can be difficult. As a solution, Belgian gardeners use hedges to create a distinct perimeter. Some of our favorite hedging shrubs are Hornbeam, Boxwood, and English laurel.

Planted at the edge of a garden, tall-growing shrubs–pittosporum, hornbeam, boxwood, and laurel are a few examples–will grow together to create a dense privacy screen that also absorbs and blocks noise from traffic and neighbors. A hedge of green shrubs always looks better than a fence.

Forego Flowers

Les Jardins d&#8\2\17;Annevoie in Belgium by Stephane Mignon via Flickr.
Above: Les Jardins d’Annevoie in Belgium by Stephane Mignon via Flickr.

Flemish gardens often have austere, simple palettes of green on green with an emphasis on texture, shape, and size instead of bright colors. Evergreen shrubs have year-round appeal and can create a sense of symmetry and balance that makes seasonal flowering plants feel chaotic in comparison.

Create Symmetry

Solitair Nursery in Loenhout, Belgium offers wholesale customers (i.e. professional garden designers, landscape contractors, and municipalities) specimens for a big property: trees, distinctive standards, and shrubs in many shapes. For more, see Shopper&#8\2\17;s Diary: Specimen Trees and Special Shrubs from Solitair Nursery in Belgium.
Above: Solitair Nursery in Loenhout, Belgium offers wholesale customers (i.e. professional garden designers, landscape contractors, and municipalities) specimens for a big property: trees, distinctive standards, and shrubs in many shapes. For more, see Shopper’s Diary: Specimen Trees and Special Shrubs from Solitair Nursery in Belgium.

Impose a sense of balance with trees planted in a row, identical topiaries, or closely pruned shrubs that echo each other.

Paint with Moody Colors

Above: Our favorite shades of gray paint. For more, see Architects’ Top 10 Gray Paint Picks. Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.

Black or gray fences, facades, and other architectural details black or gray will emphasize how very green the greenery is.

Plant Poppies

Photograph by Echoe69 via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Echoe69 via Flickr.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow,” the poet John McCrae wrote after seeing the resilient flowers swaying on their skinny stalks in the battlefields of World War I just months after fighting had turned the landscapes to mud and blood.

Poppies want to please. Self-sowing, they are wildflowers that will spread widely and provide sanctuary to pollinators.

N.B.: This post originally ran on September 30, 2014.

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