Belgian king's colonial-era greenhouse opens to public

BRUSSELS: In an annual rite of spring in Belgium, the domed 19th-century greenhouse complex on King Philippe's Brussels estate opened to the public last Friday.

For the next two weeks, visitors can wander through an architectural jewel commissioned by his forebear King Leopold II to show off tropical and other plants.

The plants are now at their peak flowering in the warm, moist air under the glass and steel domes of the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. There are palm trees, giant ferns, orange and lemon trees, geraniums, camelias, hortensias, fuchsias and azaleas.

King Philippe, Queen Mathilde and their four children live on the estate, where King Leopold had the greenhouses built between 1874 and 1905.

The complex was built also to host receptions and conferences, and the "winter garden," the oldest and most imposing greenhouse with its dome supported by neo-classical columns, still serves as a reception centre.

At the heart of the "winter garden" stands the only tree to have been planted when the complex was built: An Oreopanax dactylifolius from Mexico, a rare plant whose foliage reaches the dome.- AFP