Izrael’s public gardens

By Avigayil Kadesh

You may have heard about Haifa’s spectacular Baha’i Gardens or Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens. But what about Ramat HaNadiv on Mount Carmel? Or the Utopia Orchid Park at Kibbutz Bahan? Israel’s public gardens span the country. Let’s start at the top.


Northern Israel

More than half a million visitors every year take advantage of free guided tours of colorful groomed geometry in the two Bahá’í Gardens. Located about 10 miles apart in Haifa and Acre (Acco), the gardens are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites as holy places and pilgrimage destinations for followers of the Bahá’í faith.

The Haifa gardens comprise 19 landscaped terraces extending up the northern slope of Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa Bay with approximately 1,700 steps. More than 450 plant species, mostly native to the region, were chosen for their color, height, hardiness and ability to survive with a minimum of water. The smaller Bahá’í Gardens in Acre, north of Haifa, form a wide circle framed with cypress trees and plantings.

„It’s a bit hidden from the main road, and recently we purchased land between the gardens and the main road to expand the gardens so they will be a lot more visible to passersby,” says Jalal Hatami, deputy secretary general of the Bahá’í International Community.

Both gardens are tended by volunteers from about a dozen countries, and do not charge admission fees. „The way we see it, we’re trustees of these sacred, special places for all of humanity,” says Hatami. „We don’t see them just as our own, but for everybody.”

At the southern end of Mount Carmel south of Haifa, between Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina, Ramat Hanadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Park was set up as a memorial to Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a major benefactor to pioneers working to found the State of Israel.

Wheelchair-accessible pathways throughout the fragrant Memorial Gardens meander among a combination of formal European and Mediterranean-style plantings, pine and cypress groves surrounding the crypt of the baron and his wife, Adelheid. The groves were the gift of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

In the Nature Park, you can walk along circular hiking trails with plenty of observation points. The park has an acclimatization cage where rehabilitated birds of prey are prepared for release back into the wild. Ramat Hanadiv’s Visitors Pavilion, Israel’s first certified „green” sustainable building, has an auditorium that shows a film about the site; a nature exhibition gallery; and Scenicafé, a kosher dairy café-restaurant serving fresh seasonal specialties with aromatic herbs and olive oil, fine wines and goat’s milk beverages. There’s a playground adjacent to the restaurant and the park offers a variety of family activities, such as bird-ringing, concerts and lectures all year long.
Central-Tel Aviv region

Located between Netanya and Hadera, Utopia Orchid Park at Kibbutz Bahan displays more than 20,000 orchids, some of them rare species, growing on rocks, trees and on the ground. This is one of the only parks of its kind in the entire Middle East.

Jerusalem

 

The 30-acre Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (JBG) on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University boasts the largest collection of plants in Israel. Here you’ll find about 10,000 species arranged according to geography, with sections for plants native to the Mediterranean region, Central and Southwest Asia, Australia, North America, Europe and Southern Africa. It also has a large collection of bonsai trees; a tropical conservatory; and an herb and medicinal plant garden.

The JBG hosted 180,000 people in 2010, and the leadership aims to attract a quarter of a million visitors as it adds attractions, including a Children’s Discovery Path featuring a 95-meter treetop walk and nine interactive stations on different aspect of plants in their environment. Also planned is a biodiversity education center at the tropical conservatory, which will take visitors on a journey between two environmental extremes, the rainforest and the desert. An expansion in the near future will make room for plants from South America and Southeast Asia, plus a new visitor center and a horticultural school.


The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ train ride is popular with children (Photo by Judith Marcus)

The JBG got its start in 1931 under the direction of Alexander Eig, then chairman of the Hebrew University botany department, on a plot of land near the university’s Mount Scopus campus in northeast Jerusalem. When access to the campus was cut off between the 1948 War of Independence and 1967, the garden was planted anew at the Givat Ram campus.

The university’s Mount Scopus Botanical Garden was revived in recent years. More than 950 plant species, representing about 40 percent of the wild plant species of Israel, cover six acres. Meant as an ecological conservatory for a diverse collection of plant groups, this garden includes, for example, species from Mediterranean scrub, desert grasslands, Negev mountain ranges, coastal sand dunes, bodies of water and traditional orchards.

Not far from the Givat Ram campus, opposite the Knesset and government precinct, the Wohl Rose Garden boasts more than 400 varieties of roses, many of them gifts from other countries and arranged accordingly. Covering 19 acres, it is one of the few rose parks of its kind in the Middle East. The park also has an experimental section where new varieties of roses are tried out to see if they’ll do well in Israel, which gets rain only in the winter.


A sampler of garden roses (Photo courtesy Israeli Ministry of Tourism)

In addition to about 15,000 rose bushes, Wohl Garden offers expansive lawns, hills, quarries, an ornamental pond with aquatic plants and fish, a waterfall, rock gardens, and sculptures, as well as a sixth-century mosaic floor moved here after it was discovered at Kibbutz Sde Nahum. The garden was designed in 1949 as President’s Park, a place for government ceremonies, but opened to the general public less than a decade later. It was renamed around 1980 when Vivienne and Maurice Wohl sponsored its landscaping ahead of an international rose congress held in Israel in October 1981.


Southern region

More than 900 species of plants from all over the world have a home at Kibbutz Ein Gedi’s Botanical Garden. Over nearly 25 acres, this desert oasis – which was founded in 1956 – displays a huge collection of plants from five continents, which acclimatized to the climate here through a process of trial and error. Typical Israeli trees – olive, pomegranate and fig – can be found alongside tropical plants from Madagascar, Australian plants and palm trees from Africa.


The Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens overlook the Moab Mountains and Dead Sea.

The Scented Arugot section of Ein Gedi’s botanical garden is dedicated to healing and aromatic spices, many with biblical roots, such as myrrh and frankincense. At the northern edge of the park, you can see breathtaking views of the Moab Mountains, Ha’etekim Cliff, Dead Sea, Ein Gedi Spring and other unique geological features of the region.

Further south, the Eilat Botanical Garden and Organic Farm sits on a chain of desert hills overlooking the Red Sea. There are sign-posted walking paths, stone terraces, a stream, lakes, waterfalls, stone and wood buildings, plus three viewpoints providing a vista of the Red Sea and the Edom mountains.

This botanical garden has about 1,000 species of fruit trees, herbs and other shrubs and flowers from around the world, in addition to plenty of colorful wildflowers