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10 ways to fill up your urban green lung

16:43 13/03/2014

Flex your urban green thumb 

Spring is in full bloom in Belgium and with it our need to reconnect with nature. For expats living in Belgium’s densely populated cities however, it is not always easy to keep in touch with one’s green side.

Don’t let the grass be greener on the other side; instead, let The Bulletin shed light on ways you can maintain a lush green lifestyle in Belgium’s urban dwellings. The result will have you and our Planet breathing a little bit easier.

Note: English speakers, remember to have your web translator ready, as some links will be in French or Dutch.

1. Discover one of Brussels’ many secret city parks:

A close runner-up for greenest European city, Brussels is full of green parks and gardens for that ecological recharge. Most expats are probably already familiar with Parc Royal, Bois de la Cambre and Parc du Cinquantenaire, yet often the best parks the European capital has to offer are less known and more secluded.

For flower lovers, Parc de Tenbosch is a must: hidden away in Ixelles, this park looks small from the outside, but beyond its gates is a Narnia of beautifully-kept botanical gardens, sunny patches of grass, lounge chairs and of course a pétanque court.

Another park that often goes unnoticed is the Jardin de l’Abbaye de la Cambre at the tail end of Place Flagey’s two ponds. This park seems to come right out of a Jane Austin novel: primly trimmed gardens and statues fit for Louis XIV as well as a majestic pond dappled with lilies and ducks. Living up to its name, this park houses an Abbey founded in 1201  (that still serves beer in its café) as well as Brussels’ art school École nationale supérieure des arts visuels, which proposes the occasional art exposition. 

Looking for a garden or park closer to home? The city’s environmental squad has just the tool: a wonderful map indicating all of Brussels’ green spaces.

Want to discover these parks through the eyes of an expert? Join one of the 12 guided walks organised by the City of Brussels between March and October. While the website says they are in Dutch or French, most locals are more than willing to offer their English interpretation skills.

2. Explore Meise Botanic Garden

Closet botanists, let Brussels’ greenhouses offer you new safe haven. Take Botanic Garden Meise, located in Brussels’ outskirts and offering 92 hectares and 18,000 varieties of plants. The cherry on top is the Bouchout Castle located in the middle of the gardens. Don’t miss out on the Garden’s Magnolia Walk running end March through April, or even a Magnolia watercolour workshop April 12th. 

3. Visit the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

Among Belgium's many lovely greenhouses, there is no doubt that the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken rein the land in terms of grandeur and beauty. Designed by the architect Alphonse Balat in 1873 for King Leopold II, the facilities include 7 classical greenhouses including an Azalea House, rotunda, a colony of birds and the orange trees. Walkways are filled with climbing geraniums and fuchsias, with the castle of Laeken as a backdrop. Be warned, nature-lovers have just 3 weeks a year (Friday 18 April 2014 to Friday 9 May 2014 except Mondays) to fill their lungs with this majestic green beauty. 

4. Take a nature photography course

Perhaps you are someone who prefers capturing nature’s beauty through a lens instead of just observing it. If this is the case, the nature conservation club Natagora offers a Nature Photography class on a Brussels farm “Nos Pilifs”. The course aims to train amateur nature photographers how to best capture nature’s daily treasures.

Natagora’s course is given in French, so for those who prefer their class content in English, try instead the Meetup group Photoresk, who organise the occasional landscape photography or “A walk on Brussels’ wildside” workshops.

5. Take a nature walk in Sonian Forest

Called Fôret de Soignes in French, this forest located in southeast Brussels’  seems to get its name from the French verb soigner, meaning “to care for or heal”; as a day here gives you just the healing recharge needed to return to the urban grind. Extending over more than 4,400 hectares, coming to Sonian Forest for a day of nature activities - from hiking to biking and fishing to horseback riding - is quite simply invigorating. Sonian Forest also organises nature walks (in French or Dutch only) for those wanting to learn more about Brussels’ flora and fauna, as well as English-friendly downloadable nature walk guides.

6. Start or join a community garden:

For some, a garden or nature walk just isn’t enough; they need to come down to ground level and get their hands dirty in order to have their green-fix. Luckily, large networks of community-supported gardens exist all throughout Belgium, and are geared to both the hard-core and occasional gardener. In Brussels, the association Potagers Urbains helps organise, fund and educate residents on community gardens. Those interested can look up a community garden near their address, or go to the community exchange page where residents can post or volunteer their help on urban garden projects.

7. Start or join an urban compost:

Many of us do not have a green thumb but still want to contribute ecologically. For these individuals the solution may be starting a home compost. Not really sure where or how to start? Worms a.s.b.l. is a non-profit expertly versed in all things organic waste management, and is available to guide you through your first moments of decomposition. The organisation facilitates trainings, and also can connect you with community compost projects if your worried a home compost will be too odorous of an affair.

8. Plant a Brussels forest in a day:

Belgium’s Jane Goodall Institute organises a big annual tree-planting event joining people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures to plant a forest in one day. Already three years in the running, around 9000 trees have been planted in Belgium as a result.

The new location is chosen every year, and each person can choose their level of participation from donating a tree to actually planting it. Keep posted on the official tree-planting day for 2014 here. 

9. Hike Brussels’ 60km Green Belt

Looking for the complete nature challenge? Try hiking Brussels’ magnificent 60km green belt. Good for hikers and cyclists, this green belt is comprised of 7 sections that allow you to discover Brussels’ different landscapes. For detailed lay-out of the 60km and parks and activities nearby, check out this geo-portal crafted by Brussels’ Environmental Association.

10: Get lost in Van Buuren Museum’s Art Deco Labyrinth Garden

The perfect harmony between nature and art, the Van Buuren Museum consists of an Art Deco house from1924 surrounded by 1,5 hectares of avant-garde gardens hidden away in Uccle. Highlights include a "Picturesque Garden", "The Labyrinth" and "The Garden of the Heart". The "Picturesque Garden" portion was designed by Jules Buyssens to compliment the geometrical ideas of its neighbouring Art Deco House. This jewel of greenery can be visited all year round (for a small fee of €5).

 Photos courtesy of The Jane Goodhall Institute, Potagers Urbains, Van Buuren Museum and Natagora 

Written by Kelly Hendricks