jerusalem gardens

American-born Sara Perzley graduated from the RBG Edinburgh.  She is one of the 2013-4 scholars of horticulture at the Gardens, supported by the British Friends of the JBG.  Here she writes about her work with rare plants.

Many visitors to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (JBG) have strolled past the beds of rare and endangered plants in the garden.  What they may not have realized, however, is that the contents of these beds represent only a small fraction of the Gardens’ total collection of rare plants.  While it would be ideal to have the entire collection on public display, practical considerations prevent this, and most of the rare plants are kept behind the scenes in the propagation nursery, visible to guided groups only.

A large proportion of rare Israeli native plants, and Israeli native plants in general, are annuals, completing their entire lifecycle over the course of a year.  This makes evolutionary sense in a climate with a hot, bone-dry summer.  Instead of developing adaptations such as water storage organs or the ability to go dormant for a season, nimble annuals simply begin growing after the autumn and winter rains, and quickly flower and set seed by late spring or early summer.  Although the plants themselves cannot survive through the dry season, their seeds can, and are ready to start the cycle over again in the autumn.

While this is a streamlined, efficient strategy from the point of view of the annuals, it makes for quite a lot of work for whoever is looking after the collection of rare plants at the JBG. At the moment, that would be me!  I have spent my first several months at the Gardens sowing seeds, pricking out seedlings into larger containers, and of course, documenting the entire process in the plant records system.

As there is not enough space or time to plant all of the rare annuals out in the Gardens, most are kept to grow in buckets in the nursery, where they can be monitored and where their seeds can be easily collected to be sown again next autumn.  The collection serves as a living gene bank for rare species, and occasionally some of the plants grown in the nursery are given to nature reserves to bolster or replace populations that have diminished or been lost.
One of the important records kept about the rare plant collection involves the percentage of seeds that germinate from each species sown.  Many of the rare annuals germinate easily and quickly, approaching 100% germination, but others are more tricky, with less than 1% germination.  For some species, germination can be aided by using techniques such as soaking the seeds in water before sowing or chilling them in a refrigerator.  Data on how to propagate rare plants, most of which are not cultivated in gardens, can be difficult to impossible to find, so it is important for botanic gardens to keep their own records and notes for the future.

So far this year, a total of 127 rare species have been sown, spanning the alphabetical gamut from Acinos rotundifolius to Ziziphora tenuioir.  Most of these are Israeli native plants listed in the Red Data Book: Endangered Plants of Israel, a catalogue of the 413 plant species that are most threatened in this country. However, the collection also includes a few rare plants collected in other parts of the world by JBG scientists and colleagues abroad.  More rare seeds will be sown in February, from plants that prefer warmer growing temperatures and would not have been happy germinating during the middle of a Jerusalem winter, especially one that included a major winter snowstorm! 

Here's the second blog by Gareth Gilpin, currently on a four-week travel scholarship to the JBG ...

Waking up in a warm, sunny climate is a wonderful thing when you have escaped England in January!  My day started with a tour around the JBG, first led by Tom Fogel, the scholarship co-ordinator, who introduced me to everyone there, and then by Dr. Michael Avishai (the Emeritus Scientific Director) as well, who insisted that we commandeer one of the golf buggies.

Early on I detoured into the nursery and was shown the ropes by Maya, the super enthusiastic, bubbly and in control of the show nursery manager, who has created an oasis of plant life in such a small space, with cuttings/plugs/seedlings/stock plants/grown-on stock packing out every possible area. Apparently the pots cannot be put directly on the ground, since at night the kamikaze porcupines go on the rampage, and tear the place up.

Then I began one of the most interesting and engaging tours that I have ever been given!  Michael gave the most personal and fascinating insight into how a botanic garden and a person (read: character, for Michael is truly a character!) can become fused into one. He and the Gardens are like a symbiotic organism, or maybe the JBG is his child that he has nurtured over the years. In any case they are inseparable, and it's reminiscent of the chicken and egg conundrum - you can't have one without the other; and it doesn't really matter which came first. It was a pleasure to spend so much time with this great man, and to feel his passion and care - it made me feel very, very lucky to be given this opportunity to work at the JBG, and proud too.

By midday I was ravenous. I had skipped breakfast thinking my visit to the JBG would be brief. It wasn’t, but my brain was certainly full from the amount it had been fed during the last few hours! I headed to the Old City in search of food.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have no sense of direction, cannot read a map, remember nothing of the way from which I came, and have fantastical notions on the route I must take next. I spent over 30 years in London and still cannot make a journey on public transport without becoming lost.  I was deeply cynical about making it to the Old City. '30 minutes' they said. 'Take the bus 19, 32, or something else' they said. 'All you have to do is stay on this road, go straight, make no turnings, and you will be there' they said.  'It is so simple and easy, you cannot miss it!' they said. Yeah right, just you watch me.

After 30 minutes of taking my chances, my jaw actually dropped as I suddenly looked up, and there was Jaffa Gate!  I decided to go off grid, and just followed my feet for a while, gaping at everything in a kind of wide-eyed awe.  Eventually, in the Muslim Quarter, I realised I’d been going round in circles for about an hour and must have passed the same fountain at least 6 times.  In the end, I got to know it, and every single street around it, really, really well. I settled for lunch there since I accepted I didn’t know the way out.  I feasted and hydrated, and then recharged on Arabic coffee (which I dislike but felt obliged to drink. Damn my English politeness).

I then tore all over the place, making random turns, taking sudden detours. I think I covered it all. Some of it I aw more than once ... I saw the Western Wall four times (twice by accident). I watched the sun set.  I left.  I returned.  I walked around the walls on the outside. I went in again. Then I decided I must get back.

I don't even have the energy to attempt to describe the Old City, and how can you, anyway? The place is full of contradictions. Beauty and squalor; ancient history and gaudy right-now; friendliness and rudeness; wonderful smells and incredible stinks; cosmopolitanism and separatism; joyous celebrations and sad resignations. It is a beast of an experience. An awesome, mind-boggling, emotional, rough-riding creature that takes you on its journey, for you are just a spectator, a visitor gazing from the outside in.

Gareth Gilpin has just arrived in Jerusalem on a 4-week travel scholarship to the JBG.  Gareth is a keen plantsman at Chichester Trees and Shrubs and sees this opportunity as part of his ongoing professional development. He writes: 

Having left the safe confines of the New Forest in sleepy Hampshire, England, at 4am, tearing across the M25 in savage rain, and battling my way to Luton airport in-between endless parallel pairs of articulated lorries, I somehow made it there in one, very frazzled, piece. Check-in was an interesting insight into what I could expect in Israel; I hadn't seen so many orthodox Jews in one place since mooching around the streets of Stamford Hill back in London as a young'un. I felt quite scruffy and under-dressed by comparison.

While nursing a mild envy of the hats (I must get myself one of those for back home), I gazed in wonder at this quite sizeable group praying, nodding, and chanting in the direction of the plane - it was quite a sight, and quite wonderful.  I felt relieved that I had paid extra to secure a window seat, and stared in amazement at the snow-capped mountains we passed over.  They were stunning; next trip, snow-capped mountain climbing.  With the hat of course.

I was met at Tel Aviv airport by the very charismatic and chatty Tom Fogel, whose knowledgeable conversation was a marvel to engage with.  We spoke for the entirety of the taxi ride to Jerusalem, and was so engrossed that I only managed a few glimpses of wonders that we passed - almond trees festooned in bloom like I had never seen before; lemon trees laden with fruit, some kind of prune/cherry/plum plantation that was a blanket of blossom.  Spring was here!  And the weather - wow! To an Englishman who had fled the dull, dark, dreary days of a particularly wet and gloomy Winter back home, I suddenly regretted the amount of woollen jumpers and thick, corded trousers I had packed! I needed shorts and t-shirts, and sun cream! 20 degrees C of glorious, balmy heat, with crystalline blue skies, mmmm mmmmm - I am going to like it here.

Despite being distracted by fascinating conversation with Tom,  I did get to witness the driving in Israel - an area I wanted to be wise on asap, as I had hoped to hire a car a few times at the weekend. Suffice it to say that I hope they hire out articulated lorries, made from fierce, heavy metal frames, that shun cars from getting too close. This must be what riding in the Indy 500 is like. I simply must ensure I hire some kind of super truck at the very least. It has to be possible.

Against the apparent odds (and near-misses), we made it to the flat, and I met my fellow housemates during my 5 week stay. Sara and Jordan are both on 12-month scholarships, and are both of that cheerful, sunny, upbeat American disposition that makes Brits like me feel wooden and apologetically-uptight.  Very hip, very cool, and all down on the good things and must-sees of Jerusalem.  Sara cooked an incredible take on an amazing Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, which was a sumptuous feast for the senses. We were joined by Ofri  Bar, the former JBG Scholar Co-ordinator and his partner Ronen, who were both the life and soul of the small party! Outrageous and wickedly funny, they were both amazing company, like some kind of double-act. Within 3 hours of my arrival to the flat I had been very, very well fed, was in excellent company and spirits, and had even tried my first Israeli red wine - which was delicious!

Also, plans have already been forged to meet Tom at the JBG tomorrow, who is very keen to show me around and make all the introductions - can't wait! There was talk of heading over to Ein Gedi on Saturday, which is something that was near the top of my list of 'must-do', with the possibility of going via Masada which is another 'must-do' right up there, and with this wonderful heat I am looking forward to floating in the Dead Sea, reading my book, while soaking up some rays.

After my tour tomorrow with Tom, and taking some time to become familiar with the people and the gardens themselves, I plan to head to the Old City. I want to walk, and walk, and walk, until I have burned off this evening's calories firstly, but mainly until I feel like I have become deeply and most happily lost in what I imagine to be the most exquisitely atmospheric, heady, and engulfing labyrinth of history that exists.

I can't wait!

This section features blogs from our current scholars and those who have completed their scholarships and moved on.   Our first blog comes from Jordan, our 116th scholar, who arrived in Israel in October. 

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