Most of the plants in the laboratory can already be seen, Source: City of Leuven

Leuven creates a plant lab at the city cemetery

Leuven creates a plant lab at the city cemetery

It aims to discover which trees and shrubs will survive the changing climate

For the past several months, Leuven has been working hard on its latest environmental project. As is usually the case with the Belgian city, the project can be qualified as innovative at least according to two dimensions: objectives and location.

Lately, the authorities have been supervising the intensive plantation of greenery at the city cemetery. The idea, however, is not just to make it more pleasant to the eye, but to create a real laboratory where they can learn more about the plant species and how they are influenced by global warming. The ultimate goal: to discover which species are more resilient to climate change.

Preparing today the city of tomorrow

The future plant laboratory at the City Cemetery of Leuven is another manifestation of Leuven’s constant drive for innovation and change. The plantings in this 'laboratory' will be supervised by the cemetery’s landscape architect and will be special for two reasons. 

On the one hand, the city is experimenting for the first time with an adapted range of trees and shrubs that are supposedly more resistant to increasing heatwaves and longer periods of drought. Currently, many of the trees in the cemetery are not in good shape: it is becoming more difficult to get new greenery to grow; the mature tree population becomes increasingly frail due to water shortage or damage from sunburn. 

The many years of use of pesticides also made the soil less vital, explained the authorities. Even though the use of pesticides and herbicides is no longer allowed by Flemish authorities, restoring the impoverishment of the soil takes time.

On the other hand, the city is also experimenting with planting technique – adopting the right one can give the plants a flying start. Alderman for greenery Lalynn Wadera suggests that a possible way to give better chances of survival to small plants will be to place them close together so that they can protect each other against the heat.

A laboratory where it is actually pleasant to spend time  

In the laboratory, about 60 tree species, indigenous and exotic southern types, will be tested for their drought and heat resistance. The selection, however, does not only involve specimens for which it is known in advance that they can survive the warmer and drier climate - it will be more open.

Thus, authorities will closely monitor the species to see which ones do well within the prevailing circumstances, and which ones should not be kept. This will be done with attention to protecting biodiversity so that indigenous species are not displaced, they ensure.

The first conclusions of the plant lab will be made after three years. Leuven will then share the knowledge with other cities, municipalities or trade organizations to inspire them to experiment on their own.

Finally, at the cemetery, there will also be a flower meadow and picking zone. Various flower mixtures were already sown this spring, selected for their resistance to drought and heat. “With a colourful flower meadow, we turn our cemetery into a real nurturing place, a park full of tranquillity and greenery where we commemorate, remember and keep each other alive in our minds. You can also pick a flower to take home and continue to feel the connection with the cemetery and who you cherish there,” concluded alderman for welfare and cemeteries Bieke Verlinden.



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