The Botanical Gardens at Belgium’s Ghent University are open to the public daily, including three of the University’s twenty greenhouses; one Victorian, one tropical, and one subtropical. A succulent greenhouse is open on Sundays only. The park, which is adjacent to the southern edge of Ghent’s Citadel Park, offers nearly 7 acres of over 10,000 species of plants.
Although the garden has been located at this site since 1902, a 2004 renovation completely reorganized the tree and shrubbery plantings into three major phytogeographical regions; the forests of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Guests enjoy sitting under the larger shade trees on benches lining the walkways. A large pond at the park’s entrance is surrounded by Belgium’s Umbrella Pine, a tree native to the area. A vegetable garden is full of fruits, legumes and root vegetables, and is particularly geared towards young visitors. A rock garden hosts flowering plants and offers interpretative signage alongside the walkways, allowing visitors to learn about each of the flowering shrubs. Reflective of the garden’s relationship with the University, the rock garden is home to a wide variety of flora and seeks to encourage local gardeners to learn more about plants they might grow at home.
In the 4,000 square feet of greenhouse space, visitors can see a subtropical Mediterranean garden with a relatively cool climate, a succulent greenhouse for cactus and other desert species, and a Palmarium, or tropical greenhouse. Outside of the tropical greenhouse is a small pond surrounded by bog-and-fen patches, creating an ideal habitat for the garden’s carnivorous plants. The Victoria greenhouse is home to commoditized plants such as coffee, papaya, cacao and rice.
Also included in the University’s collection is a herbarium of over 300,000 species divided into moss, fungi, seaweed, and vascular plants, as well as extensive short and long-term seed collection. A Garden Library is open during business hours and houses a collection of over 500 books on horticulture and botany.
History: A public Botanical Garden has existed in the City of Ghent since 1797, and has been at its current location since 1902. Several of the garden’s original greenhouse plants were donated in the 1700’s by the curator of Paris’ Botanical Garden, André Thouin, including the first Dahlias to ever flower in Belgium. In 1802 the gardens were in danger of closure as the University’s central facilities were to be closed and used as army barracks. However, when Napoleon himself visited the gardens that same year, he changed his mind and decided the gardens should be saved. Two years later, in 1804, management of the gardens was transferred to the City of Ghent. By 1816 a new University had been established and a professorship in Botany was linked to the directorship of the gardens. This same relationship between the University and the Gardens still stands today.
In 1902 the garden was moved to the south end of the Citadel Park to avoid the soot and smog of the city. In the 1930’s the greenhouses were updated and enlarged. Marshall plan funds in the 1950’s contributed to the build of the rock garden, as well as the modern visitor center, which is still in use today.
The garden is supported by its many volunteers, and the Friends of the Botanical Garden society, which has over 600 members and celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2016.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Two-hour long guided tours of the gardens are available in English or in French, organized by Friends of the Botanical Garden. A themed children’s tour focuses on the Vegetable garden and includes a tasting of fruits and other plants. Tours for school groups focus on the group’s area of interest and are guided by docents specially trained to encourage interactive participation.
Classes in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, are held Saturdays and are open to the public. Additional workshops and classes are posted on the Botanical Garden’s website. The Victoria Greenhouse is home to gallery space which hosts rotating exhibits of photographs and paintings. Both the Victoria Greenhouse and Palmarium are available to be rented for special events and exhibits.
Students at the University of Ghent use the collections at the Botanical Garden for study and research. Greenhouses and plant collections at the Gardens are used by the departments of Biology, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, as well as Geology, Geography and other Life Sciences. Students interested in gaining work experience may apprentice with the Garden’s curator as a trainee.
Ghent University Botanical Garden, K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, Phone: +32-0-92-64-50-73