If you have ever wondered what more than half a million begonias look like, the Grand Place in Brussels is the place to be this weekend.
The giant flower carpet in the Belgian capital has become a biennial tradition since its inception in 1971, and attracts thousands of visitors. This year's arrangement is a tribute to the Belgian presidency of the European Union. Surrounding the 650,000 flowers are the city's medieval guildhalls, old town hall and Breadhouse. Together they make the Grand Place, known in Dutch as the Grote Markt, the city's most popular tourist destination.
Officially, the first floral carpet, at least in its present form, was installed on the Grand Place by the landscape architect Etienne Stautemans, although it was the culmination of a whole series created in various towns across Flanders.
Stautemans, a graduate of Ghent Horticultural College, had been experimenting in the art of begonia-based carpet-making since the 1950s. As word of his talent spread, he was called upon to produce floral arrangements in Cologne, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Valencia, Buenos Aires and Columbus, Ohio. But he concluded: "Nowhere is the carpet more beautiful and distinguished than in the unique, ancient surroundings of the Grand Place in Brussels."
The begonia is apparently the perfect flower for making a floral carpet because it is robust and resistant to both cold weather and hot sunshine. It also grows in an unparalleled range of colours, from rich vivid hues to delicate pastels, and in between are the variegated and white flowers which reflect light.
Work on the carpet begins a year in advance, with projects and scale models. The small matter of assembly takes 100 gardeners about four hours, and requires a degree of co-operation no doubt envied by Belgium's politicians. They have been unable to form a ruling coalition since a general election on 13 June that was triggered by the collapse of the previous government.
Belgium assumed the rotating EU presidency from Spain on 1 July. Among the many tasks facing the Prime Minister, Yves Leterme, during his time as the bloc's president is a trip to Cancun, Mexico, in November to represent the EU at a global climate change conference. Nice work if you can get it...