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SPECIAL TRAVEL ISSUE | Side Trips: TRAVEL TIPS, TRENDS
AND TOOLS : BRUSSELS SPROUTS

greenhouse effect

March 19, 2000|Dale M. Brown

Regardless of the weather, Belgians know when spring has sprung. For two weeks each year, the private royal greenhouses--an amazing collection of crystalline structures--open to the public for a flower show that ushers in the season.

Winter-weary crowds flock to Laeken Palace on the outskirts of Brussels that's made all the more magical by the presence of thousands of flowers brought synchronously into bloom by a fleet of royal gardeners. Six-foot-tall geraniums line the galleries connecting the hothouses, while fuchsias form a canopy overhead, their pendulous red, pink and purple blossoms suspended like hundreds of Chinese lanterns. Off these sweet-scented avenues, conservatories house tree-ferns, orchids and gloxinia. And in the greenhouses, above, azaleas, giant palms and other trees form lush Edens of their own. The biggest of the structures, the round Winter Garden, right, boasts a dome that rises 80 feet.

This Belgian rite of spring began with King Leopold II, who built the five-acre greenhouse complex in the 17th century. His ritual of sharing the spring beauty of the royal gardens with his subjects has been continued by his successors, who have closely maintained the original layout and floral designs of the park.

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The gardens this year are open from April 21 through May 7 (April 25 is reserved for visitors with disabilities). Admission: $1.25 to $2.50. Information: the Belgian Tourist Board, (212) 758-8130, or http://www.visitbelgium.com.

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