King Leopold’s camellias

Camellia. Plant Palace. Meise. 
Every year I wait with impatience for the opening of the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken at the end of April. After long queues, you enter the historical greenhouses built by Leopold II to reproduce a lavish tropical forest. The first thing you bump into are huge camellias in large pots, followed by gallery after gallery of magnificent flowers. In the meanwhile, and with no queues, you can anticipate the splendour of the Royal Greenhouses with a more democratic visit to the Botanic Garden in Meise.
Camellia. Plant Palace. Meise.
In fact, camellias are already blossoming. Indoors, in the Spring House of the Plant Palace, in a very Victorian atmosphere. Outdoors, in the new corner especially devoted to them by the Walled Garden. 
Camellia. Plant Palace. Meise.
I love the Plant Palace perhaps because it is always springtime inside, and rather warm. It is a huge complex of thirteen interconnected greenhouses with different flora reproducing different habitats. My favourite now, apart from the orchid section which is permanently renovated with new blossoming specimens, is the camellia section in the Spring House which, as I said, looks very Victorian with a romantic nude and flora brought from the former dominions of Asia, so you have the impression of visiting Queen Victoria’s greenhouses before King Leopold’s.
 Paphiopedilum orchid. Plant Palace. Meise.
Orchids showcase. Plant Palace. Meise.
Camellias are extraordinary bushes or small trees which combine the beauty of their flowers with the wealth of tea. There are two basic kinds of camellias: camellia sinensis, from the leaves of which tea is made, and camellia japonica, which provides ornamental flowers. Camellia sinenis is grown in the mountains of tropical areas around the world in hedgerows at waist height for ease of plucking its leaves— usually by female labour. Its flowers are white, small, and not especially conspicuous. Camellia japonica, which comes originally from China as well as Japan, is the kind usually grown in Europe for flowers as beautiful as roses. Its leaves are also very decorative, leathery and dark green. Camellias can be quite hardy. Mine has spent this winter outside, well protected from the cold north and east winds. It has just started blossoming. 
 Camellia. Plant Palace. Meise.
Don’t wait until the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken open. There are plenty of camellias already waiting for you in Meise.

Image credits © Ruskin in Brussels