By Jonny Bruce
The Kalmthout arboretum in Belgium blazes with a variety of Hamamelis
Flaming orange, red and yellow are not colours associated with the depths of winter but at Arboretum Kalmthout, near Antwerp in Belgium, a historic collection of Hamamelis, commonly known as witch hazels, sets the winter garden ablaze. The arboretum began life as a successful nursery in 1856. Its founder, Charles Van Geert, was fascinated by unusual trees and shrubs and developed a notable collection of rarities. Some 40 years later, the business was sold to Antoine Kort, another keen nurseryman. Kort began making selections of Hamamelis, including the very first red variety, Ruby Glow, but he was better with plants than with finances and the nursery was forced to close in the 1930s. Weeds took hold of the site until 1952, when Kalmthout was bought by two diamond traders, brothers Georges and Robert De Belder — though Robert would go on to play the primary role
A local family, the De Belders knew of the abandoned nursery and their decision to invest was primarily to preserve a collection of precious trees that were threatened by housing development. It was this concern that also determined the proportions of the 8.5-hectare site (which has since expanded to 12.5 hectares) that was arranged to encompass the greatest number and most significant specimens. Although the brothers began immediately to expand the collection, it was the arrival of Jelena Kovacicm, a young woman from Yugoslavia (as it was then known), in the first autumn that transformed the garden.