Just as the nights draw in Meise Botanical Garden lights up the horticultural calendar with a month-long celebration of orchids.
And why not? The orchid family represents 10 per cent of the world’s flowering plants, with more than 25,000 species.
The botanic garden’s Plant Palace has an impressive 1,800 orchids to admire while walking through 13 interconnecting glasshouses which echo the climates of tropical and subtropical rainforests to South and North America, Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean. A Dry House is filled with cacti and succulent plants which would please my friend and plant hunter Tom Hart Dyke and in the Monsoon House plants follow the rhythm of the wet and dry seasons.
Most orchids grow in the treetops of tropical rainforests and the collection in the Meise includes many stunning examples including the Vanda species, from the Philippinnes, in blousy blues, purples and magenta.
Not so vivid in colour, but equally dramatic are the delicate Bulbophyllums including ‘Louis Sander’ and ‘Elizabeth Buckley’ which could almost be worn like pieces of spiky jewellery. Despite their exotic looks these orchids can be grown in our homes with no need for special treatment.
The Belgian father of orchids, Jean Linden (1817-1898) was one of the 19th century plant hunters who travelled to Latin America and became captivated by the plant. He began to import orchids to Europe and made himself a small fortune as the bourgeois clamoured to own this magnificent, mysterious plant to show off in their homes.
Although orchids are the stars of Flori Mundi, garden lovers can admire more than 18,000 plants and the greenhouses also hold an important historical collection of plants from the former Belgian Congo.
Due to their continued popularity many orchids face extinction and Meise’s scientists are working on their preservation. Thankfully, a total ban on some species has been introduced through CITES, the Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species.
The botanic garden’s director of public services, Koen Es, says he hopes for at least 27,000 visitors at Flori Mundi 'to not only appreciate the orchids but to enjoy the 200 acres of parkland'.
He said: “We are only five miles from the centre of Brussels so we attract many visitors from the city but we also welcome guests from other regions – and we are hoping the British garden enthusiasts will also be tempted to come.
“There is the most wonderful autumn colour across the park this year.”
Meise Botanic Garden also boasts a castle that dates to the 12th century which houses a magnificent exhibition of orchid water colours by Elisa Klopfenstein and an orangerie which overlooks the lake.
Flori Mundi runs from October 31 to November 29, 2015. Opening times 9.30am to 4.30pm with four live music evenings on November 5, 10 and 19. Admission 7 euros, under 18s go free.
Address: Nieuwelaan 38, 1860 Meise. From Brussels north take the De Lijn bus 250 or 251.
Visit: www.visitflanders.com or www.florimundi.be