In April 2012 in lieu of going to the Netherlands to see the tulip fields I visited Floralia Brussels at Château de Grand Bigrad. “Getting there is easy. There are signs.” I was told. So I took the tram and ended up at the Grand Bigrad Tram Stop which was on an empty residential street. The Tram conductor unhelpfully told me this was the stop and he did not know where the castle was.
Two youths had gotten out so I asked them if they knew where the castle was. They looked at each other and laughed and admitted they had no idea there was a castle here but maybe if I walked down “that way” I would find it. So we walked with the two clueless if helpful local (?) boys walking ahead since we were going in the same direction.
This time we continued down an underpass and more empty streets which made me wonder where everyone was and if they might all be at the flower show or had been abducted by aliens or if it was just a very quiet small town. Then we came out of an empty stretch and suddenly we arrived at what had to be the commercial and administrative centre because there were shops, cafes, a church and a town hall. And there were people. Not many but enough to seek further directions. But then I saw the second sign as did my two helpful local boys who pointed at it and waved me goodbye as they continued on their way.
As I said the grounds are big (hectares ) and I only realised afterwards that they had other plant displays indoors. And a special surprise in the tower which I did not get to visit so I never found out what the surprise was. But I did get to see lots of flowers: lots and lots of flowers.
They were mainly bulbs, tulips, hyacinths, muscari, Fritillaria Imperialis, wild tulips, violets, azaleas and rhododendrons, and others. Some had little signs giving the names but as I had not brought a notebook I did not bother reading many. I know, I should keep a photographer’s log.
They had set them up in various settings, which proved quite interesting and pleasing aesthetically. First there were the beds with one type of flower and colour. Then there were combinations of flowers of different but complimentary colours and then there were the swaths of what I can only call natural woodland flower mixes.
Over all it was a harmonious and complementary combination of flowers and colours. They also had a labyrinth and a French Garden. By the time I got to the French Garden I was most appreciative of being able to take pictures of flowers without the need to crouch down to take close ups or vary the angle of the shots. While taking photos of one bed earlier on I made the mistake of putting one knee down only to discover that the ground was soaking wet and icy cold.
All in all it was all quite brilliantly done and when you realise that all these thousands of bulbs were planted by hand and deliberately planned to achieve a certain look it is impressive. Another interesting thing about the flower show which shows the thought and expertise that went into it is the inclusion of early flowering, midseason and late flowering plants. This means that not only will you be getting constant flowers over the month long period in which the Floralia runs but it also means that the whole display would shift and change as time passed with different flowers and colours emerging. When I realised that, I really regretted not having bought a multiple entry pass.Another reason for regretting not buying a multiple entry pass was that my batteries died too soon. This was partly due my having taken only three sets of batteries and also due to the cold which apparently affects the batteries. I ended up taking the batteries out and warming them up between my hands between shots. This actually worked and enabled me to eek out quite a few extra shots although it became tiresome having to constantly take the batteries out to warm them up. And eventually no amount of warming up worked. That was when I reluctantly left.
Aside from the plants planted outside there was an indoor exhibition in a 1000 square foot greenhouse. These comprised of indoor garden flower arrangements. But I did not even get around to see these and actually because I was too busy taking pictures and did not read the pamphlet I only realised that there were more flowers to see after I left.
In retrospect I would have done several things differently:
1. First of all I would have come earlier not only to get more time but also for the lighting as some there were some shots I could not take due to the direction of the light. Yes I know there probably is a way but I am not that advanced in photography and besides it was not just the light but the angle that I wanted to take the photo was directly into the sun.
2. Secondly I would have come with lots more batteries and maybe even tried to get hold of one of those pocket warmers I read about that can be used to keep the batteries warm. Although I definitely need to read up more on taking photos in cold weather because aside from the dead batteries I want to avoid any problems with condensation in the camera.
3. Thirdly I would probably bring more equipment. Okay when I say more equipment I have to admit the only other camera equipment I have is my camera stand with the telescopic legs. But still having that would have helped a bit as taking photos in the cold is not easy it would have made it easier to take photos at some awkward angles and especially the close ups and close to the ground shots. I would also bring small board or something waterproof to kneel on. I did have my umbrella and a plastic bag to stick my camera in, in-case it rained which thankfully it did not. One reason I did not take the stand with me was for fear of looking like a tourist. I know silly but it is a holdover from my time in Hawaii where people deliberately avoid doing anything that might make people mistake them for tourists. But at the gardens there were quite a few people taking serious photos. There was even a TV camera crew there. No one seemed to find it odd and actually unlike other places most people seemed conscious and respectful of the people taking photos. When I say respectful I mean that if they saw you were lining up a shot they would pause and wait for you to take it instead of just continuing to walk and getting in the way. All the photographers including me were very appreciative of that as it enabled you to take your shots and move on rather than wait ages before you had a clear shot.
4. Another thing would be to do a bit more research on what there was to see so that I do not miss anything and if necessary can better organise my schedule and go on several visits as this obviously merited. Frankly taking the changing floral arrangements over time and the amount of flowers to see I would probably have been able to spend 4 weekends and not quite see all there was to see. Fortunately there are restaurant and toilet facilities so you could actually spend the whole day there if you really wanted although as I mentioned the village centre is close by and I saw several pubs around where you could get a bite to eat and a drink as well.
5. Finally I would take a notebook to at least take some notes of what the flowers names were. Apparently some were rare or new varieties.
Additional Facts:Floralia Brussels is a yearly event held in early April through till early May at the Grand-Bigard from 10AM – 6PM. Note the ticket booth closes at 5PM.
It is a spring flower exhibition held throughout the grounds of Grand-Bigard which comprise of about 1 million bulbs planted by hand in approximately 14 hectares. According to the official website there are 500 varieties including 400 tulip varieties. Among the other bulbs are hyacinths, daffodils and are arranged by Maarten and Pieter Bakker who are descendants of a famous family Dutch bulb producers.
The park is accessible to people with reduced mobility and dogs are allowed on a leash but owners are expected to pick up after their charges.There is a cafeteria that sells sandwiches, salads, cold dishes as well as a daily special dish or from the menu. Reservation is necessary for groups. I did not go in so I cannot comment on what it is like.
Entrance Fees are:Adults - 10 €
Children (6-14 years) - 5 €
Children less than 6 - 0 €
Groups more than 20 people 9 € (per person)
Passe-Partout - 15 €
Grand-Bigard (French-Château de Grand-Bigrad /Dutch-Groot-Bijgaarden) is located in the village of Grand-Bigard in Flemish Brabant (7km west of Brussels) in Belgium.
In essence Grand-Bigard dates from the 12th Century and is surrounded by a moat.
The stately home was built in the 17th Century and is considered a fine example of the Flemish Renaissance.
The Keep dates from the 12th Century. This is a fortified tower which was built around 1347 with walls two meters thick and is composed of four stories rising up to thirty meters.
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You can visit their official site by going to this link http://www.grandbigard.be/en