I could never tire of watching the water

Another lyrical blog from Abby, one of our current scholars …

I am watching a tiny lizard climb a cypress tree. His dainty brown body blends in with the bark. He rests for a moment on a small limb. His sides and neck are green. His throat and sides pulsate with every breath. Now he moves into the shade, his body is getting too hot. He scuttles from one side of the tree to another. I assume he is searching for insects. His long tail flicks back and forth as he moves. As i watch, he freezes, he’s staring into a healed wound on the tree trunk. Frozen in time, he stares into the shadows, suddenly a large shadow flicks over his body. Its a jackdaw on the prowl for his own dinner. The tiny hunter becomes prey in a split second. Only speed and camouflage can save him. As quick as a dragonfly he bolts downward to the ground. Ducking, leaping, dodging, the lizard evades death almost effortlessly. Dropping down into the containers of cycads he successfully avoids being eaten. The jackdaw flies off voicing his displeasure with a series of croaks and the noisy flap of wings.   

I move my location and sit down on a bench. I am observing life in the Mediterranean section of the garden.  Blackbirds scuffle in the leaf litter searching for worms. One is successful and flies away with a beak full of breakfast. The others continue their search. The euphorbias sway gently in the breeze. The oaks and pines hold a whispered conversation in the wind. Clouds of yellow pollen fill the air. Royal purple irises hold court,  their rich violet falls accentuated by pale pink markings. Paeonia masculata is blooming beneath the oaks. Earlier in the spring their new growth emerged clenched like a fist, hence the name masculata. These unique peonies have beautiful single pink flowers that are only a few inches high. Soon the pretty petals will fall and become part of the leaf mold that covers the ground. The seeds will develop, drop, and germinate. Next year new plants will be growing, adding to the tapestry of the understory perennials.   


Paeonia masculata [Photo by Abby Evans}

Lupines are finishing up their grand spring display. Instead of the magnificent carpets of blue and white, the blooms are spotty now. Single plants blossom here and there popping up amid the yellow Mustard. Gladiolus are beginning to bloom, reminding me of my grandmother. One of her favorite plants, these multicolored beauties are striking in their shades of white and red.


Lupinus pilosus (Photo: Abby Evans)

 My next stop is the Arbutus grove. The smooth red bark, the bell shaped flowers and rich green leaves are an incredible spring exhibition. I enjoy watching the birds flit to and fro among the branches. Its as if they too love this beautiful tree.  The sound of rushing water catches my attention and I go and sit in the shade next to a pond. A colorful male kingfisher is busy fishing. His brown and not so colorful mate sits near him on a rock. She too is looking for food. His vivid blue contrasts sharply with his white bow tie. He is quite the specimen! He is also a good fisher, he catches minnow after minnow. Soon he will he catching tadpoles. The frogs croak in the shallows, hiding successfully in the tall reeds that border the pond edge. The orange koi fish swim lazily in the sun warmed water.

A turtle surfaces for a few moments then ducks below a lily pad.

I could never tire of watching the water.

There is so much life, even in the smallest of ponds.

Water is ever changing, moving, rippling, rushing, it’s like fire: hypnotizing. It never ceases to hold my attention.

All too soon, It is time for me to leave this marvelous scene and head home.

 As I leave my secluded seat I am reminded of Robert Frost’s lovely poem, The Road not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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The road less travelled (Photo Abby Evans)

Beit Shemesh Hike

Sam in another of our current scholars. Here’s his description of a recent field trip

Botanical Adventures

On the 18th of February, Shemer, Kady, Abby and I went for another hike to look at wild Flora. First, we visited a hill near Beit Shemesh. The area in question is renowned for its display of Lupinus pilosus, though we were a touch early and only a few were in flower.
The Sinapis alba, however, was in full bloom. S. alba is a common wildflower across most of northern Israel. The plant is 25-100cm high and covered in yellow crucifer flowers. En mass they look pretty incredible, and the display with be even more vivid when the Lupinus pilosus fire up next week.

Scrambling among the shrubbery in this area are large specimens of Clematis cirrhosa. The blooms illuminate the hosts they cover, creating creamy mounds on the green landscape. A number of C. cirrhosa varieties are available commercially including the well known ‘Wisley Cream,’ so seeing the true…

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The hills are alive … with iris seekers

More from Abby, one of our current scholars, about her recent expedition …

On March 12, I went with the JBG Garden Club on their botanizing expedition to Mount Gilboa (in the north of Israel, in Lower Galilee).  We were seeking Iris haynei also known as the Gilboa Iris. Upon arrival to the base of the mountain, we scattered searching excitedly for orchis sp. and other interesting wildflowers.  However, our guide Hagar did not allow us to wander far and she soon called  us to climb the mountain. Following the trail, we descended first into a meadow before hiking up the winding track. The day was warm and overcast. The clouds blew swiftly across the grey sky, running before a swift breeze. It cooled our sweaty faces and made the trees sway gently. We were hiking through tall grass that was a vibrant green. Swathes of golden-yellow mustard plants ran in rivers through the oaks. A sweet floral smell filled the air, it was the wild  Mustard. Birds sang gaily in the meadow and cows grazed lazily behind a fence. Watching for Iris among this idyllic scene was hard, I wanted to stop, relax,and enjoy this beautiful area!

As we hiked upward, the meadow was left behind and the rocky summit appeared. Boulders became more apparent and pine trees began to dominate the landscape.Then I saw my first Iris haynei. This beautiful plant was clinging to life among the rocky slopes, its roots buried deep in a rock crevasse.  After the initial sighting, I began to see many more of these lovely flowers. As we ascended, we soon began seeing hundreds if not a thousand Irises, some in clumps of 15 and 20, others flowering singly or in pairs. Vivid purple Irises were scattered everywhere on the mountain. The rich green of the trees, the tan rock, and the Gilboa Iris created a beautiful picture.

The plants varied dramatically by height, shape, and color. They ranged  from 12 to 36 inches tall. The flower size varied as well. Some were only 3-4 inches across while others were bigger than the average hand! Some flowers were fragrant and smelled of jasmine, or (strangely) hot chocolate. Other flowers had no fragrance at all. The range of colors was breathtaking as well. All were striped and speckled in various patterns. Flowers in hues of brown and purple were in abundance, though I saw many that were a plain royal purple and others were simply delicate shades of pink. There was even one isolated patch that was nearly white accentuated by brown falls.

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Meandering through this incredible landscape examining such wonderful wild specimens was exhilarating. I never thought that I would be able to see Iris in the wild. Yet here I was surrounded by these magnificent creations, on a beautiful mountain in the lovely land of Israel.

Shalom from Mount Gilboa!

Tracking Israel’s elusive orchids

From Abby, one of our current scholars …

Shalom from the Jerusalem Botanic Gardens!

On Wednesday the 8th I went with the JBG’s Garden Club to the hills surrounding Jerusalem. We were hunting the elusive orchids. Some of these special flowers are rare in this country and are sly sneaky creatures. They need an experienced tracker to discover their hiding places. When we arrived at our first location, I realized how brilliantly clever these rare orchids actually are. They employ the use of decoys. In order that one be led astray into the mire of despair, these horticultural devils will reseed freely.

Leaves soon sprout up in obvious places leading even the most experienced plant hunter to hope for a flower sighting. However, even though the leaves may be of magnificent proportions there is no blossom. The sneaky beauties will flower instead inside a wild Asparagus, a Rose bush, a Scrophularia, or an Astralagus. All of these aforementioned botanical wonders have thorns of truly spectacular sizes and shapes. Long thin needles resembling porcupine quills, rows of short prickles resembling sharks teeth (with the same bite) and some in-between the two, just to spite the despairing orchid lover.

We were in search of around 6 different kinds of orchids that day. We climbed many mountains, forded many streams, followed every rainbow, until we found our dreams!!   It took quite a bit of effort, but eventually we began finding the ‘dumb’ orchids, the ones that are being weeded (!) out of the gene pool. These are the ones that bloom in the middle of the path, flower by the natural gas pipeline and cast their seed in parking lots.

In due course, through careful searching, we found most of the  orchids that this region of Israel has to offer. We found the striking Orchis laxiflora, this charmer was growing next to the pipeline. Next on our list was Ophrys umbilical, this one was inhabiting the parking lot. Close by, growing by the sidewalk, was its cousin Ophrys transhyrcana. Occupying the thorny confines of a Scrophularia was Orchis anatolica. Down the slope was Orchis papilionacea, and Ophrys fleischmanii. Orchis galilea was the last one to show its face. Even though it took nearly 4 hours to complete, we were successful in hunting these evasive yet charming plants. It was fun to see these native Israeli orchids in their natural habitat.  


After our fruitful search, we congratulated ourselves on our success and began bandaging all the cuts and gashes caused by hopeful wading in thorny undergrowth seeking these phantasmic flowers.

All was red, dry and lonely

by Abby, one of our current scholars at the JBG

This week we went on a botanizing tour with the Israeli Friends of the JBG. We traveled through the Negev. One of our stops was in Maktesh Ramon, a massive glacial crater in the south of Israel. Driving through, it was as if we had left all civilization behind us and had entered a different world. It looked as I would imagine the planet Mars to be. Great piles of red rocks were everywhere. They rimmed the edge of the crater in tall spires. They blended together to create an impenetrable barrier to the outside lands. All was red, dry, and lonely. The sheer emptiness of this land was enchanting. Outside the bus there was no sound except for the whistle of the wind through the boulders.


Walking through the dry wadis, the wind moaned eerily. Only the croaks of ravens testified to the hardy creatures that call this unearthly place home. Wandering through this wilderness, the imagination is free to roam unhindered from the daily distractions of this busy life. My mind conjured up deadly dragons guarding stolen gold, angry Orcs from Mordor and two horses and their children searching for Narnia and the North.  I expected to see Anakin and his pod racer streaking toward us. Storm troopers would have been no surprise, and I kept my eyes open for banthas and Sand People.

Instead I saw tall mountains, shaded valleys, steep ridges, dry stream beds, vast level plains, and menacing towers. Pinks, purples, blues, grays, reds, white, and cream swirled together.  Multicolored layers of stone created a striking portrait of the past telling a story none can know for sure, yet everyone wants to know. Every hill was painted as if by an artist’s hand. The colors were vivid, illuminated by the morning sun and creating a masterpiece of nature.


Everywhere I looked there was some new wonder. Black hills rose and fell in a steady line marching parallel to the road.  They were ancient volcanoes, their danger long past. Lava had created great black avenues that stretched for hundreds of feet in all directions. One could easily imagine the molten rock spewing out of the depths of the earth. Shiny flints scattered the ground. Basalt lay where it had been thrown in primeval times. fullsizerender_1

These ancient hills inspire man today and will continue to amaze for generations to come. The desert is a place where imagination can run free, the spirit can fly, and one can find freedom from the stress and pressures of everyday life. The desert is a beautiful place, a magnificent component of nature that serves to illustrate the grand masterpiece that is Maktesh Ramon. None can describe the arid landscape better than the man known as John of the Mountains, John Muir.

“Surely faithful and loving skill can go no further in putting the multitudinous decorated forms on paper. But the colors, the living, rejoicing colors, chanting morning and evening in chorus to heaven! Whose brush or pencil, however lovingly inspired, can give us these? And if paint is of no effect, what hope lies in pen-work? Only this: some may be incited by it to go and see for themselves.”  John Muir, “The Grand Canyon of Colorado”



Creating a beautiful wall

This year (2017) the Friends are sponsoring three scholars and this is blog is by a recent arrival, Abby who comes from Maryland, USA.  This is what she has been doing this week.

I was put in charge of a new beautification project in the gardens. Ori (the Scientific Director) was given a large donation of Cyclamen persicum tubers, 800 to be precise.  He  wanted them to be planted in a wall in the main garden and I decided on the upper path, just below the library, where the cedar trees form an archway over the path. I was then contacted by Alan, a  volunteer coordinator. He had 3 students who needed a project for the next day.


In preparation, I gathered a lot of soil as a type of mortar which was moistened until it was a sticky thick consistency.  I also had hand trowels, to spread the “glue”. When the students arrived all was ready. We walked down to the path and I gave them a brief lesson on Cyclamen; like where the roots came out and where the leaves would emerge.

After that, the girls shunned the latex gloves as well as the hand trowels; instead they used their bare hands to scoop out the glue like mud and stuff it into the rock wall.

I showed them how I wanted it done. They were to grab a handful of mud and find a crack in the stone. Then they were to carefully insert the Cyclamen into the crack and cover with more mud.  The girls didn’t mind the messy job at all and were soon laughing and talking as if they did this sort of work every day!


They worked for an hour and a half and during that time they got exactly half of the Cyclamen planted! Very exciting! The next day, I had another volunteer and we finished up the final 400 tubers.

I had fun teaching the students about Cyclamen persicum. When these delightful plants begin to flower (hopefully next year) this walkway will be stunning. It will be a solid mass of delicate pink and white. If you’re able, come to the Gardens and check them out!

Shalom from the JBG!

Makhtesh Ramon

Here is the first blog by Sam, our latest Scholar, who arrived in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago. Here he talks about a trip he took with Eric – the current Scholar from Australia and Shemer – one of the gardening team.

On Saturday Eric, Shemer and I were in the Negev desert (the southern half of Israel) seeing sights, looking at plants and generally enjoying the amazing landscape. We decided to visit Makhtesh Ram…

Source: Makhtesh Ramon

Making a bit of a comeback: Salvia bracteata

James T, our current scholar from the UK, will be returning home within the month.  Here is his latest blog …

Salvia bracteata has become a bit of a celebrity here at the moment … currently being propagated in the Gardens after becoming extinct in Israel, it seems to be popping up in environmental blogs, community project newspaper articles – and even on TV. This is one of the species on the Red/ Rare Plants List which I have been looking after and propagating and, despite its famous nature, it is not too much of a diva to look after.

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Two pictures of Salvias in the Rare Species beds in the Gardens – dotted also with Lupins

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The Gardens’ plants were collected from the last 42 locations around Jerusalem before becoming extinct in the country due to urban development. The plant grows in arid Mediterranean scrubland on limestone and once-mountainous fallow fields.

The plants geographical distribution is from Turkey, Syria, Northern Iraq and Western Iran, down to Jordan and Israel. The plant may not be the most striking compared with others in the Genus – but in cultivation has a relatively dense form that can be used towards the edge of a mixed border.

More plant info can be found in the Red Data Book on the Endangered Plants of Israel:     http://redlist.parks.org.il/taxa/Salvia%20bracteata/   (press the small English link on the left).

The buzz around the plant is coming from conservation methods and the community engagement that is taking place. With the help of Ori Fragman-Sapir (Scientific Director), the JBG Hub (for Social and Environmental Action) team have been organising planting events in the Gazelle Park not too far from the Gardens and its original habitat. Planting events have already taken place using some of our propagated material, with more on the way – hopefully 300 plants from cuttings and 50 from seed.

Here’s the link to the JBG Hub’sFacebook Hebrew article: https://www.facebook.com/JBGHub/posts/836235349832637

I have been tasked with propagating these and, since mid-December, I have been taking cuttings from the mature specimens found in the Gardens, making sure only to take 50% or less of the existing material so not to hold back the plant too much for the next growing season. I had a wonderful demonstration on how to propagate soft wood cuttings from Shlomit Goren, one of the Gardens’ volunteers, who also volunteers at a commercial nursery. According to Maya (our nursery manager) there is no one who has a higher success rate when it comes to cuttings and, after seeing the ones she did 4 weeks later with fabulous root structures (ignoring my attempts), I have to agree. All cuttings were put into cups, with the nursery propagation mix (Standard Mix – Perlite – Vermiculite in equal measure), with rooting hormone and put under the misters in the Nursery on the heated benches. I found that different batches have taken around 2 months to produce a good enough root system ready to be potted on or put into a Standard Mix with Osmocote. Now into March we are on our way to producing the desired 300.

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Salvia bracteata cuttings after 2 months on the misting bench in the nursery


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Salvia bracteata cuttings being transplanted, after root development

50 Salvia bracteata are also coming from seeds, collected from the Gardens last year and soaked in gibberellic acid to aid germination. The high germination rate means we had more than enough germinations to pot on and they are all growing well outside. In fact we have spare germination if anyone wants them, a list of spare rare plant seedlings has been sent around to other gardens.


salvia bracteata seedlings in nursery.jpg

Salvia bracteata seedlings in the Gardens’ nursery

This activity has sparked media interest with a newspaper article – and a TV spot, as I had a camera crew filming  me one afternoon while potting on some of the cuttings (I felt like I was on Gardener’s World).

Link to newspaperarticle: http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/science/.premium-1.2855102

It’s not all about Salvia bracteata though – many Salvias are flowering up and down the country – from Salvia Lanigera  in the Negev to Salvia fruticosa  in the coastal areas of Haifa. In the Gardens two species have caught my eye – Salvia multicaulis (also on the endangered Red List) and Salvia indica – the latter is a little bit showy and a good geometric form with bold foliage. In my lunch break I have taken advantage of the wonderful weather (compared with that back home I hear) and sketched them for future record.

salvia fruticosa

Salvia fruticosa


salvia lanigera

Salvia lanigera

salvia multicaulis

Salvia multicaulis

salvia indica sketch

Salvia indica

It’s great to know some of my work out here is benefitting this particular plant community and the human one also.

All the photos and sketches are the copyright of James Toole.