jerusalem gardens

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. 

When a weather-related story about Jerusalem is topping the media headlines and it is front page on the Columbus Dispatch - the daily newspaper in my home city of Columbus, Ohio - it must be a rare event. The heavy, wet snow started falling in the early hours of Thursday morning and I woke up to an unusually bright and chilly bedroom. The snow was still steadily falling and beginning to blanket the busy streets during the hectic morning commute. The chaos of traffic was an obvious fate for a city not well adjusted to this end of the weather spectrum. I was not convinced in the days before when rumours and forecasts of snow were buzzing around the country, that even if it did snow it would be ‘real snow’. I was barely convinced the first time I squinted out the window at the thin blanket of snow reflecting the early sun. My initial disbelief was quickly followed by excitement, and finished with a dose of reality - snow is nice when you have central heating and insulation. I slumped back to bed.

Fortunately, I was motivated to unbundling the layers of blankets by the thought of capturing a strange combination of snow blanketing native South African and Australian plants in the Gardens. My first thoughts were of the bright orange and finely textured Banksia ashbyi blooms I had photographed a few days earlier under sunny skies and warm temperatures. I then thought of the other plants - Aloe, Agave, Allium, Crocus, and Cyclamen - in bloom throughout the Gardens. The temptation to capture these brilliantly coloured blooms contrasting with the impeccably white snow was the inspiration I needed to remove myself from my warm and comfortable realm.

The wind and snow picked up as a trekked through the slippery, snow-covered paths of the Gardens, but I was able to capture several flowers hiding under the snow before retreating to the greenhouse to start with ‘real work’ for the day. I spent the remaining part of my morning completing the seed sowing for the autumn propagation requests. It is important to complete pre-treatments and sowing in autumn and winter because many seedlings - particularly ones not native to the region - need to be well-established to handle the sudden heat of the summer months in Jerusalem. I was a bit behind schedule as I had been juggling greenhouse work, managing the geophyte collection, working with volunteers with assisting with the installation of the new Fynbos planting in the South African section. I was content to have a quiet, dark, snow covered greenhouse to myself for the day.

The same motivation that got me out of bed on Thursday inspired me on Friday, but this time it was to capture the Old City carpeted in snow. It would be a unique opportunity in my lifetime. The excitement around the snowfall in Jerusalem made for a wonderful day exploring the Old City sites under these rare wintery conditions.


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