Today I take you on a visit to the medicinal herb garden of the Hôpital Notre Dame de la Rose in Lessines. The hospital and monastery were founded in 1242, making it one of the oldest hospitals in Europe. It was up and running until 1980. Now it is an interesting museum with some interesting pharmaceutical and medicinal collections, but also some wonderfull artworks are on show. The recent renovations brought the complex, built in the 16th and 18th century, back in its former glory. Visit the old cloister, the old dispensary and infirmary and admire the Baroque hospital chapel. Let’s have a closer look now at the medicinal garden of the hospital, which is situated in the old cemetery of the Nuns.
The Nuns that took care of the sick had a great interest in early pharmaceutical science. To prepare the different drugs in their dispensary they grew their own herbs and plants for the preparations. In this lovely walled garden you’ll find about 120 species of medicinal plants in several plant beds separated by low boxwood hedges. All the plants are well labeled and it’s a pleasure to wander around and enjoy the floral beauty, the silence and the view on the surrounding historical buildings. At the back of the garden some stairs take you up to a higher part of the garden, where you can enter the old ice cellar : be prepared for some chill down there. In the 19th century every winter ice was gathered at the nearby Dender River and stocked in this cellar, providing the nuns with cold food and drinks even in high summer season. From this higher part you have a nice overview of the lower gardens. Against the old walls some espalier fruit trees provided the nuns with fresh fruit. In between the plants some old structures still remain, a little chapel, the old distillery ruins and a typical greenhouse for grapes.
The garden also has a big importance as a testimony of the larger scale culture of medicinal plants in the environment of Lessines. In 1910 over 300 hectares of land were dedicated to medicinal herbs as marigold, marsh mallow, chamomile, burdock, henbane and angelica. Nowadays only a few fields with angelica is all that is left. When you come out of the garden you can have a drink or eat something at the lovely secluded square in front of the museum entrance. When visiting the garden it is advised not to touch the plants for the obvious reason that a lot of them are poisonous, and the nuns are not there anymore to come to the rescue.
Hôpital Notre Dame de la Rose : Place Alix du Rosoit, 7860 Lessines, Belgium
Opening Hours : From Tuesday to Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.