First blossoms around the Atomium

Crocuses in front of the Atomium.

Coming home from La Monnaie a couple of weeks ago, I found some snowdrops (galanthus nivalis) on the boulevard of the Jardin Botanique. Their French name, perce-neige, conveys a clearer idea of the heroism of this tiny flower: opening through snow the path to blossom. They are probably the first flowers of the year to show up in Brussels and much of northern Europe, followed closely by other blooms which don’t fear snow or frost. These first snowdrops called me to visit the Belgian Botanic Garden in Meise, one of my favorite places around Brussels.

 Snowdrops. Meise.
 
The national garden in Meise is not a secret, but neither the most popular site of the city, only 3 km from the Atomium. Even Belgians do not know it or have not found time yet to pay it a visit. It is usually very calm, despite recent efforts of the management to increase the number of visitors, and you are not likely to bump into other forms of human life apart from the staff and very few elderly locals at this time of the year. Go now. You will be surprised to see how many flower you can already spot. I will tell you about two more of them.

Crocuses in Meise.
 
Crocuses are bulbs as small as snowdrops but in very bright colours; usually violet, yellow, orange or lilac. They stand upright, not downwards like snowdrops, as if proud to be seen. From the stigmas of one the them, crocus sativus, comes saffron, the most expensive spice. It is grown and handpicked with the pain of the back of thousands of women in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. If a flower has only three of those threads which are the stigma, imagine how many times you have to bend down to pick up a gram! Around 150 times.

Saffron comes from those little threads. No photo credit.
 
The essential oil of hamamelis or witch-hazel is often used in cosmetics. It comes from its leaves and bark and so the harvest is not as painful as that of saffron. Hamamelises are very different from crocuses, since they are bushes or little trees which look like hazels but still have some characteristics in common. They blossom at this time of the year giving off a rich sweet smell. Their petals are so thin that they almost look like the stigma of crocuses hanging from the naked branches of these trees. You can find them in front of the main greenhouse of Meise. Good luck!
 Witch-hazel trees with a carpet of blossoming cyclamens. Meise.
 Witch-hazel blooms. Meise.

Images credit © Ruskin in Brussels