The Camellias at Leuven Botanical Gardens

This introduction explains the story about the Camellias, the VOC (Dutch East Indian Company), the Botanical Garden of Leuven and the Belgian Revolution in 1830.

Dr. von Siebold was a German physician, but also plant hunter for that Dutch Company and shipped a collection of plants from Japan to Leiden in the Netherlands, by way of the port of Antwerp. The year was 1830 and what is now called Belgium was under the rule of the Dutch since 1815.

A very significant event in the history of Belgium occurred at precisely the time von Siebold's plants were waiting for further transport to the Botanical Garden of the University of Leiden.
The Belgian revolution began!

According to the schoolbooks, the revolution began in the most romantic way: after having seen the opera "The mute of Portici" the attending ladies and gentlemen ran into the street singing "La Brabançon" and the revolution had begun.

Willem II of the Netherlands withdrew his army, and as a result of the vacation of the Dutch, the plant collection of Dr. von Siebold was abandoned.

Those specimens included 6 Camellia varieties which then came under the care of the head gardener of the Botanical Garden of Leuven (Donckelaar).
This was the beginning of an important plant cultivation program: more than 400 varieties were developed. Belgium became the world centre for Camellias.

Paul Geert, the renowned Flemish garden columnist (André compares him to the late Christopher Lloyd ) mentioned in an interesting article about the Camellia cultivation in our regions that the basis of the Belgian Camellia trade consisted of the six varieties left by von Siebold: 'Donckelaari', 'Ocroleuca', 'Tricolor', Candidissima', 'Delicatissima' and 'Multiflora'.

Imports from England and Italy were added.

Higo-cultivars are developed from a cross fertilisation between Camellia japonica and Camellia rusticana. Some amateurs rate them as the most beautiful of the Camellias. They are fast growing, with rather, single flowers and conspicuous stamens. From the 17th till the 19th century theyw were selected in the province of Higo by the Samourai. As they were kept secret for foreigners they are not very well known in the Western countries.

This article was written and translated (from Dutch) by André Degeest and edited by George kelly.

Photographer:- André Degeest
About the Leuven Botanic Garden
Founded in 1738, the Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis is the oldest botanical garden in Belgium.
If nothing else, the Botanic Garden with the neo-classical orangery, tropical greenhouse and abundance of plants and flowers is bound to attract many visitors.
Thanks to the latest restaurations and recent plannings the botanical garden shows a new appearance.

Main Address:
Leuven Botanic Garden
Kruidtuin Stad Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 30, B-3000 Leuven
B-3000 Belgium
Telephone Number: 32 (0)16 23 24 00
Fax Number: 32 (0)16 22 75 58
Web Site:
Institution Email Address:

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