The name of Louis Van Houtte is closely linked to the history of Ghent horticulture. The important establishment he created at the gates of Ghent, his commercial activity and his dedication to public service earned him a reputation that was recognised by horticulturists and his constituents.
In 1879, shortly after his death, a monument was erected on a small square in Gentbrugge; the inhabitants of this municipality joined the public authorities and the horticulturists in paying this tribute to one of the main initiators of the Belgian horticultural expansion.
In 1886, a number of horticulturists founded the Van Houtte Circle; they were Adolphe D'Haene, Em. De-laruye, Jules De Cock, Romain De Smet, Paul De Schryver, Spae-Vander Meulen, and Alfred Wallem. Concerned with proselytising in favour of horticulture, the founders admired the laymen in their society; they attracted them to their ranks by the lure of festivals in which a privileged place was reserved for flowers. Such was its success that the number of members has increased more than tenfold since the year of the foundation of the Circle.
The first president was a professional, Adolphe D'Haene; Gustave Bottelberge, mayor of Melle, succeeded him; for some years now, the presidency has been entrusted to Mr. Joseph de Hemptinne, an enthusiastic amateur and experienced connoisseur. At his side are two vice-presidents, Romain deSmet and Ernest Delaruye; a secretary, François Spae and a treasurer, Adolphe Uyttendaele. The members of the Board of Directors are Messrs J. Ankersmit, D. Ballion, R. Cornélis, J. De Bruyne-Miry, Prosper de Bruycker, R. Denoyette, J. and P. De Schryver, Arthur de Smet, Henri De Wilde, A. Gallet, E. Maertens, Charles Pynaert, A. Rigouts, M. Verdonck and A. Wallem. On several occasions, the Van Houtte Circle organised international exhibitions. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation in 1911, it had planned to organise an exhibition of exceptional importance; the preparations for the World Fair of 1913 suggested that this solemnity should be postponed to coincide with the World Fair; this project was very favourably received by the General Management; an agreement was drawn up under the terms of which the Cercle Van Houtte took on the organisation of the Summer Floralies from 9 to 17 August 1913.
Such an undertaking might have seemed foolhardy after the resounding success of the Royal Agricultural and Botanical Society's Flower Show. The boldness of the leaders of the Van Houtte Circle did not stop long at the inevitable objections suggested by prudence.
At first, the project only involved the use of the 6,000-metre hall of the Festival Palace, known as the hot greenhouse. But soon the support flowed in to such an extent that the Committee was led to overflow into the immense 14,000-metre hall; such an extension of the programme was to lead the directors to give the Summer Floralies as much importance as their spring counterparts.
Assured of the support of Belgian and foreign horticulturists, M. de Hemp tin ne and his colleagues did not hesitate; with great valour and tireless energy, they developed their programme and gave it considerable scope. The 557 competitions were divided into eighteen groups; in memory of Louis Van Houtte, the Committee included in the programme a competition reserved for plants introduced, obtained or spread in the trade by the great horticulturist whose name the Cercle is honoured to bear.
The participations were numerous; Belgium gave with enthusiasm; the French horticulture followed the example of the industrialists and the artists of this country; England had an important contingent, like Holland and other countries.
The summer season imposed different competitions and participations from those which had ensured the success of the first Floralies; the absence of the azalea, that fairy of the spring exhibitions, deprived the organisers of an important decorative element. Another difficulty arose from the transformation that the large festival hall had undergone since the Spring Floralies; at both ends, vast stages had been built for the horse shows, the great concerts and parties of all kinds that followed one another throughout the Universal Exhibition.
With a very refined taste and real mastery, Mr. Henri De Wilde, director of the plantations of the city of Ghent, played with these difficulties and made these elements serve the success of the enterprise. His plan was a masterpiece; the large central parterre was located at a lower level, accessed by stairs; countless begonias in bright and varied colours surrounded a basin containing a selection of water lilies of different colours; on either side of the central parterre, tastefully designed flowerbeds separated the collections, while linking the centre by undulations to the two large platforms; The latter, transformed into hills of greenery and flowers, completed the decor admirably; one devoted to orchids was separated from the hall by a trellis fence lined with roses and clematis; the other was transformed into an alpine garden by the renowned rock cutter, M. Du Milieu. The other was transformed into an alpine garden by the renowned rock cutter, Mr. Du Milieu; the Van Houtte establishments had assembled here an exceptionally large collection of plants introduced by their founder; among the species of Brazil and Colombia, the famous Victoria Regia spread its vast leaves over the water of a basin provided in the riprap; from the top of this garden, the view went over the flowerbeds to the orchids, at the other end of the room ; and when the walker climbed the other platform, he saw at his feet the orchids, the rose-lined arches, the multiple beds of summer flora, and his gaze met, at the back of the room, all the shades of green and yellow mingled with the greyish tones of the riprap.
On either side of the concert hall, the annexes contained a rich and varied harvest of gladioli, dahlias, roses, sweet peas; more than 5000 cut flowers displayed a rich range of all shapes and most dazzling colours. Elsewhere, rosebushes, transformed by skilful but careless hands into aeroplanes or airships, were surrounded by geraniums and salvias; the pavilion of the city of Namur contained a varied lot of flowering plants.
The whole was both picturesque and captivating; in the words of the Tribune Horticole, "it was a marvellous debauch of floral riches". The Belgian and foreign press has acknowledged the success of this exhibition; all its visitors will ratify the judgement of Mr. Charles Pynaert, who ended a report by saying that the Floralies of the Royal Van Houtte Circle can be inscribed in gold letters in the annals of national horticulture.
In a double event of exceptional scope, Ghent's horticulturists gave a show of their science and their persevering hard work. In less than four months, they have organised two exhibitions whose importance and quality of the contributions as well as the sumptuousness of several participations have attested to the vitality of the Belgian horticultural industry, and the close succession of these floral festivals provokes a legitimate patriotic pride.
Could any other country carry out an enterprise similar to those of the Royal Society for Agriculture and Botany and the Royal Van Houtte Circle? If the former has the undeniable privilege of having opened the way and of having progressed unceasingly, the latter has the merit of having dared to follow the example of its elder and to have equalled it, notwithstanding all the difficulties resulting from the close date of the two enterprises, their two steering committees and especially their presidents, Messrs. A. Cahier and Joseph de Hemptinne, have well deserved the horticulture and the Belgian fatherland
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913