Some gardens are secluded pieces of nature. Others, like La Hulpe, have included a chunk of a forest inside it. It doesn’t mean that they are spontaneous creations. The natural look of La Hulpe is the result of a quiet meditation in competition with the sorrounding Forêt de Soignes, the mighty beech forest in the south of Brussels planted by the Austrian monarchy in the eighteen century. When I visited La Hulpe, two weeks ago, it glowed with the last golds of autumn. The entrance is free and opens daily.
The protagonist in autumn of this garden without flowers is the profusion of coloured leaves. The acers (acer japonicum) are at their best, turning red before their falling. The metasequoias (metasequoia glyptostroboides), one of the only three kinds of conifers to loose leaves in winter (deciduous trees), wear leaves in caramel hues and the beeches (fagus sylvatica) parade sumptuously in golden attire. Their trunks glimmer in silver gray, all smoothness and solemnity, while their copper leaves litter the ground.
The Château de La Hulpe was the summer house of the Solvay family, the owners of one of the biggest chemical companies in the world, at the beginning of the twentieth century. They enriched this hilly parkland with ponds and a variety of trees that have reached their zenith a century afterwards. The family grew and the share of the estate became more and more problematic until they bequeathed the park to the State and kept the mansion for seminars and other social events. The park has been accessible to the public since 1972.
Planting a garden is always a gift for posterity never so true as when you plant trees. You hope to see them grow but you are aware that their splendour will outlast your lifespan. It is the proof that you long to be remembered. It is what the Solvay family did for all of us visitors of the Château de La Hulpe.
images credit © Ruskin in Brussels