Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Kasteel Hex Casts her Glorious Spell

Each June, Kasteel Hex, an 18th-century château in Heers, Belgium, heralds spring with a three-day festival of flowers. The estate's gardens, which display an abundance of old roses, as well as other interesting plants, are the stage for this annual celebration. The event offers garden enthusiasts a variety of exhibitions and lectures, along with walking tours and demonstrations by some of Europe's finest collectors and breeders of rare plants.

R.Gallica 'Belle Isis'

The château was constructed by Count Charles-François de Velbrück, a naturalist and philosopher, who became Prince-Bishop of Liège in 1772. Built originally as a hunting lodge, the Prince-Bishop surrounded the house with 12 acres of formal, French-style gardens, a rose garden, a Chinese pavilion, and a large kitchen garden. Once the formal grounds were laid, the Prince-Bishop began a landscape park, in the style of Capability Brown, England's most influential landscape architect. Begun in the early 1770s, it is believed to be the first park of this sort on the Continent. Today, the park and gardens still reflect the original vision of the Prince-Bishop.

A late-19th century watercolor by Jos Damien.

In the Prince's garden, a statue of putti surrounded by R. chinensis centifolia.

Immaculately maintained by the late Countess d'Ursel, Kasteel Hex still has roses that date to the 18th century as part of the original garden plan. The collection of old roses at Hex is one of the most important in Belgium and ranges from botanical roses, or wild roses, to sophisticated hybrids. Many varieties are represented in the gardens, including Centifolia and Bourbon roses, Damask roses, Gallicas and Albas, Floribundas, Moss roses, Polyanthas wichuraiana and dwarf roses that serve as ground cover. The box-hedge lined kitchen garden, original to the Prince-Bishop's layout, continues to provide the household with fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

The kitchen garden blossoms with borders of roses and herbaceous peonies.

A view of the kitchen garden from the château, the spire of a village church rising in the distance.

This year's spring festival is organized by Count Ghislain d'Ursel, and is scheduled for June 8, 9 and 10th, 10-5pm daily, with an admission fee of €7,50. Kasteel Hex is a private home, so this is a rare opportunity to tour the grounds, which will not open again until September 8-9th, for the fall festival, Tasting What Nature Offers; Late Flowering Plants. The 2008 festivals are currently listed as Wild Flowers (spring) and The History of the Art of Gardening (fall). For more information, visit www.hex.be.

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