1856 - 1897
The history of Arboretum Kalmthout goes back as far as 1856, when the Antwerp dendrologist Charles Van Geert started a proving ground in Kalmthout for his nursery in Antwerp. It remained a nursery until 1952, when the brothers Georges and Robert de Belder bought the site to create their private botanical garden there.
By taking a closer look at the various periods of its existence, we gain an insight into the circumstances that helped to create one of Europe's most beautiful gardens.
Vangeertenhof 1856 - 1897
From Antwerp to Kalmthout
Charles Van Geert had a successful plant nursery in the heart of Antwerp, at the location now occupied by the zoo and the Central Station. In Kalmthout, he found an excellent alternative for extending his activities into new proving grounds. He wants to test newly discovered plants - mainly conifers from China and Japan, 'vreemde mastbomen' of foreign pines as he calls them - for their winter hardiness.
"The centre of garden design and arboriculture that I aim to create in Calmphout will be an ornament for the community. Over time, it will have significant advantages for the people of your district, from the working people who will be needed to work on it, the people from outside who will come to visit it, the tests that will be made on foreign species of pine tree and finally the dissemination of useful knowledge concerning the cultivation of fruit trees." Charles Van Geert 150 years ago.
Already during his Antwerp period, Van Geert showed great interest in the new species brought by plant hunters from the Far East and America. He introduced the first Belgian examples of Witch hazel,Hydrangea, Hosta, Iris, Helleborus and many other plants. The gold coloured maple Acer shirasawanum "Aureum", which was not officially introduced to mainland Europe until 1888, was already in Van Geert's catalogue for 1887! He must therefore have had the plant in his possession several years earlier, to be able to cultivate the first plants for sale. This also applies to the Japanese umbrella pine, Sciadopitys verticillata, introduced in England in 1861 and already included in Van Geert's catalogue of 1862.
The first arboretum
Charles Van Geert reserved part of his nursery for his most special trees. He let them grow to fully mature specimens, which are still there for us to admire today. Van Geert called this place his "arboretum" and it is still a unique part of the present arboretum garden.