Garden Photography at the Groot-Bijgaarden
Two weekends ago, I went to photograph the gardens of the Groot-Bijgaarden Castle (Chateau de Grand-Bigard in French), which is located just outside of Brussels, Belgium. I decided to use the shoot as a warm-up to Keukenhof and I wasn’t disappointed.
The park is only open to the general public for one month in the spring. At this time it is a riot of colour from over 1.5 million blooming spring bulbs. Despite the limited opening times the 14 hectare gardens receive 50000 visitors a year.
Like its larger neighbour to the north, The Keukenhof (blog post coming soon), the most predominate flower at the Groot-Bijgaarden is the tulip. There are over 300 varieties planted by hand each year. There are also daffodils, hyacinths, violets, azaleas and rhododendrons on the grounds with additional flowers such as calla and tiger lilies blooming in the exhibit area.
Groot-Bijgaarden combines two of my favourite photography subjects – gardens and architecture. In addition to the stunning spring flowers, there is also the picturesque tower and castle, circa 1110, to photograph. Most of the current castle dates from the 14th and 17th centuries and is a mix of Medieval and Flemish Renaissance styles. In 1902, Raymond Pelgrims de Bigard took ownership of the then dilapidated castle and set about restoring it. The entire property is encircled by a moat, so the only entrance is via a beautiful five-arch bridge. Unfortunately, you can’t wander through the buildings, unless you book them for a function (what a beautiful setting for a wedding!), but they do add a beautiful backdrop to the flower gardens.
As a warm-up to Keukenhof, the Groot-Bijgaarden certainly did the trick. It got me in the spring-time garden state of mind without all of the crowds and rushing that my day at Keukenhof inevitably brings. Would I shoot there instead of Keukenhof? No, but it certainly has its advantages as a garden photography location:
Advantages of Groot-Bijgaarden over Keukenhof
- Fewer visitors. This is by far the most noticeable advantage. That’s not to say there aren’t crowds at the Groot-Bijgaarden, but certainly there are not as many. (See my tips on avoiding crowds.) Every garden lover in the world has heard of Keukenhof. Many Belgians don’t even know about Groot-Bijgaarden.
- Architecture makes a beautiful background. The castle, tower and bridge at the Groot-Bijgaarden are a much more interesting backdrop to the gardens than the modern and rather boring buildings at Keukenhof.
- More manageable size. True, the Groot-Bijgaarden doesn’t have the vastness and variety of landscapes as the Keukenhof, but that makes it a lot easier to get around. If you only have a couple of hours to spend, you can still feel like you’ve seen much of the gardens.
- Location. Ok, so this is only really an advantage to those of us in Belgium. Or is it? The Keukenhof’s location is Lisse doesn’t allow for a lot of hotels in the area and they book up fast. Amsterdam is notoriously expensive for hotels. The Groot-Bijgaarden on the other hand is about ten minutes from central Brussels and has train and bus links practically at the gate.
- Price. The Groot-Bijgaarden costs 10€ for adults (with group and seniors rates available). The Keukenhof is 13.50€ which isn’t that much more expensive. However it is an additional 6€ to park your car. The biggest difference though, is that Keukenhof’s season pass is 37.50€. Groot-Bijgaarden’s is 14€. If you go twice, it pays for itself.
Advantages of Keukenhof
- Size and variety. Let’s face it. It’s the Keukenhof… The largest and most famous bulb garden in the world. It’s really unfair of me to even compare the two. 7 million bulbs are planted every year and this does not include the exhibition buildings.
- Better organization. Many of the bulbs in the Groot-Bijgaarden are planted in a more mixed and natural way. At the Keukenhof the beds are more formal and in many ways easier to photograph. The Keukenhof’s identification of flowers is also more consistent and organized.