Nov 29, 2008

Mt. Scopus Botanical Gardens

Mount Scopus Botanical garden is situated in east Jerusalem and was established in 1920. It is attached to the Hebrew University and sits atop the high vantage point of Mt. Scopus. From the this vantage point your able to look back at the Old City of Jerusalem in the distance with the beautiful golden architecture of the Dome of the Rock, looking exquisite with the fall color of the moment. Mount Scopus is important georgraphically when it comes to rainfall. This is because when it does rain, with the rainy season starting in November, it is the divider between where it flows to. The rain that falls on the west side of Mt. Scopus flows towards the Mediterranean Sea, which would be the photo above. If the rain falls on the east side, it flows through the Judean desert, as seen above, towards the Dead Sea. Since the ground is so dry most of the time, it is actually dangerous when rainstorms happen due to the ground not being able to absorb the water quickly enough and thereby creating flash floods, especially closer to the Dead Sea. In the photo you are able to see part of the Israeli West Bank Border, which is the line which runs through the shaded out part of the mountains above.

In the actual gardens, it is set up to display the different native plant communities that exist within Israel. It is amazing though, at how well plants can adapt to their surrounding environment. Let me explain. Though you have the same 4 seasons here, the plants are on a different schedule. With the summers being so hot here, most plants go dormant and disappear to escape the blazing sun, with most of the bulbs that will and annuals only beginning to germinate when the rains come, which is now, during the fall season. So while the deciduous trees and shrubs are now dropping their foliage, the bulbs and annuals are waking up, such as the wild Lupines. So most plants bloom starting now and will come to a stop once the summer comes round again. This is also when we plant out the ornamental annuals- due to the winters still being somewhat considerably warmer.
Here is the discreet bloom of Cyclamen persica which is out now. This plant has so much genetic diversity, which is obvious in all of its intricately patterned foliage which differs from one plant to the next. . It is discreet in the sense that it is so close to the ground that it is very easily overlooked. The corms that the blooms and foliage come from can reach the size of a softball, and this plant happily seeds itself everywhere.

As you can see here in the nook of a rock, this cyclamen has happily decided to grow, and is extremely self sufficient.
Here is Pancratium sickenbergeri which is now in seed which grows on the coastal dunes of the Mediterranean. It's seeds, which are inside this black casing, are devised to float due to a spongy layer that is between the outer black part and the actual seed. This helps to ensure future generations settling onto different parts of the Mediterranean coast by floating to new destinations.These is a demonstration area to show how people used to have their allotment gardens. The beds were laid out in a very simple fashion and these gardens integrated vegetables, fruit, and small orchards. What I found interesting was this small stone building which was common when these allotment gardens existed. These were used as a means of shelter to help watch over your crops when they were close to harvest time. What people would do was stay in the bottom part of it in the cooler months to protect yourself from the cold weather and in the warmer months they would stay in the top part, which was covered with material to protect oneself from the harsh sun. This was done so you could be there to make sure no one stole or looted the fruits of your labor, which happened quite often. We were able to see where they store and clean seeds that have been collected.
Sometimes plant names make me laugh, like Aparagus horridus. Bad!Bad asparagus! It just gives a funny visual to me of the one that we love to eat. The Hebrew University was right next door to the gardens and the campus grounds were very lush and inviting. Ficus pumila scrambles up the sides of some of the buildings.
There were sculptures by different artists that were situated troughout the campus too.

A mix of opuntia and geraniums.

Ahh, fall color.

Nov 19, 2008

Swimming in Chicken Soup?

Drove to the Dead Sea with some friends and was amazed at the beautiful landscapes we saw along the way. On the west side of the Dead Sea is Israel, while on the eastern side you are able to see the mountains of Jordan.

That is my foot but that is not sand on the bottom of the Dead Sea, that's salt. You can literally scoop it up by the handfuls.
As you can see there are chunks of salt that crystallize at the edges of the sea.
I didn't know what to expect upon entering the Dead Sea, people tell you so many different things. Someone told me before going that it felt like being in a pot of warm chicken soup. What do you think after hearing that?! The first thing you notice is that the water feels a little thicker than normal, almost oily, which would explain the soup reference. Then you walk out until you reach mid-chest and that's when it happens, you shoot straight up and start bobbing. Try as you like in deep water but your never able to touch the bottom. You just float, but not like normal water, due to the high salinity of the water(9 times as salty as the ocean!). You
can sit up and float, lay down and float. I was floating and taking pictures, in deep water. You feel completely weightless and I could only imagine that this is what it must be like to be on the moon... The water in the picture above, must have been about 10-15 feet deep, the water is clear so you can see the bottom. Normally, i don't like being in deep water, especially by myself, but nothing can survive in it except for a few bacteria, and you don't sink. I floated as far out as i could, alone, and just enjoyed the mountains of Jordan. A liberating experience and a highlight of my whole trip so far. Due to large scale projects though, the depth of the sea has been dropping rapidly over the past 50 years. If you ever have the opportunity to go, please do.

The desert landscape.
We then went to the Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens, which is the only botanical garden in the world that is incorporated into a private living community.
The gardens are built on a kibbutz that is fed by underground springs. So while driving, this was the only green area in the desert that you could see.

Here is a large Opuntia tree.

Some of the cactus collection, lit up by the desert sun.

They have over 800 species of trees, shrubs and plants.

Architectural palm?f Ficus, which was a very nice retreat from the sun.

How these plants grow in size is nothing short of amazing. The branches which grow up and out, push out from their underside 'feeler' roots. These are visible in the middle of the picture, once these 'feelers' grow enough and hit the ground, they take root. Once these have a hold in the ground, they will swell in size and thickness. This part of the branch eventually turns into its own trunk, which eventually spreads the growth of the whole tree, creating a mini forest of Ficus that is all really just one connected tree.

Nov 11, 2008

Tel Aviv

Welcome to the city of Tel Aviv, which is only an hours ride away. Tel Aviv is home to alot of buildings that were built in the BauHaus ( style, which is represented by the absence of ornamentation and by the harmony between the function of an object or a building and it's design. Bauhaus influenced art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, and typography. Some artists to have been influenced were Josef Albers, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Piet Mondrian. But I didn't come here to just see architecture, I came to see plants. Being as Tel Aviv is on the coast, the temperature is considerably higher than that of Jerusalem, which means certain plants will be hardier here.Here on the streets, it wasn't uncommon to find Ficus trees growing large and luminous providing tons of shade for the mere mortals on the street. These definitely put the one you have in the corner of your office to shame....... Tsk. Tsk.

It is still fascinating to me that Palms are everywhere here, where as my only experience was at Joyce's Palm house at Longwood. There are Date farms here in Israel with these marvelous monocots planted in rows to harvest the fruits easily.

cheep cheep... There is a story here about the common sparrow, where the name that it is called is freedom. This is because while the birds in the world were all waiting to get their colors assigned to them, and with some giving very elaborate color schemes and details (we know who you are peacocks and toucans.....) , the sparrow was so impatient to get out of line that when it was their turn and they were asked what color they wanted, a quick reply of "Brown" was said so that they could take off flying again and get going on their business again.

It was a surprise to come across this tree on the street, Ceiba pentandra. Notice the large yellow flowers, which turn into this melon-like fruit once pollinated and then get dispersed my the fluffy cotton-like mass of seed? While it may be fun to look at how varied the flowers, fruit and seed can be from each other, once thing you would like to admire from a distance would be

it's non-inviting trunk. Could it be any more effective though if you don't want people hanging around outside your home?

There have been a few times now where sweet potatoes have been seen growing this way, with the tuber emerged in a glass of water and letting its delicate foliage clamber up some form of vertical support. Easy for the brown thumbed......ahem.

Here is the Schlomo Lahat Promenade on the Mediterranean Sea, which looks like the inspiration could have come from the Roberto Burle Marx designed Copacabana beach promenade in Brazil. Could it be?!

One can see the modern city rising up from the ancient port city of Jaffa, where I stayed.

Sometimes it's luck of the draw where you stay, either it's on your side or not. This hostel felt like being in an old movie with all it's intricate details and quirks.

A Joan Miro inspired lunch? No, I cannot get enough of hummus and vegetables.....

One hour and one GoldStar later......... into the book.
The decaying lock on the shutters to the balcony

The harbor in the morning, much quieter than the center of the city.....

Nov 4, 2008

The Jerusalem Botanical Garden

After a month of being here in Israel, and working in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, I am beginning to get into the routine of things in the gardens. Upon arriving the temperature was still very hot during the day but has since settled to the pleasant feeling of an Indian Summer.

One morning there was even a nice surprise to wake up and see all of the surrounding streets shrouded in a dense carpet of fog.

The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are located in Western Jerusalem, which is a ten minute walk from the apartment where I am living. The garden itself is large, covering 45 acres and representing some 10,000 plant species. The garden is divided into six geographic sections consisting of Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, Australia, North America and South Africa. These areas are then sub-divided into subsections representing specific forms of vegetation, flora and climactic conditions. There is another 20 acres of the gardens that is not used which will be developed, once funding has been completed, into Sub-tropical South America and Eastern Temperate Asia (China and Japan).
This is the conservatory which houses many of the tropical plants in the gardens collection.
There are features of the garden that I would have never expected to encounter such as historic tombs from the 2nd Temple Period (over 2000 years old) , a Roman water cistern with an ancient dovecote in the conservatory , and a large amount of bird species that seem to pass through the garden. Israel is a major stopover point for many migrating birds and with all of the diverse plant species in the garden here they find plenty of food and shelter to take advantage of.
I am amazed too with the huge chameleons walking in the branches near my head, jackals quickly darting through the garden so as not to be seen, and the occasional sighting of scorpions.
I often find myself walking through the North American section to soak up whatever fall color I can.
Fall is one of the most romantic seasons of the year, as we too know that we are preparing for winter, getting ready to start nesting inside our warm homes.. Except, that is not happening this year for me, the cold at least.....

This is the first time I have worked in a Botanical Garden and am finding it to be very different from both Longwood and Great Dixter. The focus is on the collections themselves and the amount of plants they have can seem tremendously overwhelming. The gardens are also coming off of a 7 year practice called Shmitta in which every 7th year the soil is allowed to rest, so no planting or anything to do with disturbing the soil was allowed to take place in this past year (being the 7th year). There were a lot of empty spots in the garden beds due to this and to counteract not being able to plant, plastic sheets where laid over these areas for the whole year to suffocate any of the weeds and weed seedlings that were in the soil.
I spent the first few weeks helping to construct and build a large retaining wall and am now working on helping to get the nursery situated and sorted out. We are getting ready for a few large planting projects due to Shmitta being over now, which ended on the Jewish New Year Holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The gardens coordinate a different trip once a month to see wildflowers and some of the many sights of Israel. Other planned trips include seeing the bulbs in their native habitat such asTulips, Narcissus and Anemones amongst many others. Bulbs are among some of my favorite plants and I am excited in seeing the desert come to life in this way which should start happening with the rains that come in November. See all the yellow blooms to the left of the tree?

These are the lovely yellow Sternbergia clusiana, which was collected in Jordan in an area called Little Petra.

Centranthes ruber and Callistemon

Here are some plantings seen around Jerusalem.... A large sweep of pink Gaura.

And here is a happy accident... A Cypress tree with both the blue Plumbago and a pink Bougainvillea growing up through it.......