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Jerusalem, Israel: A Jerusalem Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] Jerusalem, Israel: A Jerusalem Community Garden
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sun, 8 May 2005 18:12:33 EDT

Seeds of change

At first glance, the patch of green behind the apartment buildings populated 
by elderly Russian immigrants, between Neve Ya'akov and Pisgat Ze'ev, just 
looks like a field of weeds. 

But look a little closer. You'll see the recently-planted fig and almond 
saplings, two painted metal benches and a path marked out with small white rocks. 
You may also notice that large rocks covered in mosaics line the path and that 
each rock is numbered. 

Yet despite the clues, the only way you'd really know that you've found The 
Jerusalem Wild Flower Sanctuary is because of the giant green tri-lingual 
leaf-shaped signs that tells you so. 

Dr. Anna Godneva, native of Belarus, biologist for the Jerusalem Branch of 
the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI), and our local tour guide, 
gently weaves her way through the shrubbery to mosaic rock number six. "This is the 
beginning of the excursion, Large Blue Alkanet - better known as Cow Tongue 
because of the shape of the leaves," she explains as she fingers the large, 
slightly fuzzy leaves. "Oh, and here, number 13, Asphodeline Lutea, Yellow 
Asphodel. This is the symbol of our wildflower garden. Someday we hope this whole 
mountainside will be covered with these yellow flowers." 

Godneva, a trained microbiologist and virologist, is the self-appointed 
full-time custodian of the site. "This whole place used to be a garbage dump. Its 
transformation began over there at that tower in French Hill," she says as she 
points to a high-rise apartment building visible in the not-too-distant 

Four years ago, French Hill's municipal gardener found out that a large plot 
of land covered with a unique assortment of wildflowers, some protected by 
law, was about to be cleared to make room for a new five-building high-rise 

He called the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in 
Israel (SPNI). Volunteer Taffy Sasson took the call. 

"I immediately tried to contact the developer of the building site," recalls 
Sasson, now a member of the Jerusalem SPNI board and one of the coordinators 
of the Wild Flower Sanctuary venture. "When that was unsuccessful, we contacted 
the Lustigman, the contractor." 

For two years, Sasson remained in constant contact with the contractor in 
order to find out precisely when he would break ground on the site. Meanwhile, 
botanists at the Mt. Scopus Botanical Gardens, which specializes in plants 
native to the land of Israel, were able to remove the most endangered plant species 
and transplant them to the gardens. 

But they also needed to find a suitable location for transplanting seeds and 
bulbs. Godneva, who was working for SPNI at the time, suggested the abandoned, 
garbage-strewn lot behind her apartment. 

The soil was tested and the match was made. 

Godneva enlisted her local community of Russian immigrants, together with 
children from the neighborhood and volunteers from SPNI, to clear the site. Then 
they collected seeds and bulbs from the construction site, which Godneva 
stored in jars and cans until they were ready for planting. 

On the day the contractors were to begin construction, the Jerusalem 
municipality's maintenance department and the contractor gently scraped the uppermost 
layer of topsoil and placed it in large dumptrucks. 

They moved twelve truckloads of topsoil from the building site to Neve 
Ya'akov, but as Sasson notes, "the sanctuary comprises 20 dunum of land, and the 
earth we brought did little to cover the entire area." 

Yet the plants began to grow the next winter. The seeds and bulbs re-planted 
by Godneva and the local volunteers have blossomed into Turban Buttercups, 
Afternoon Irises, Sun's Eye (Mountain) Tulips, Common Globe Thistles, Purple Wild 
Peas, Common Grape Hyacinths and more than 55 species of wildflowers. And a 
host of animals have moved in, including rock hare, partridges, porcupines, 
butterflies, birds and gazelles. 

Yet the sanctuary is much more than an ecological preserve. 

"This community garden has done a lot to improve our city's image," exudes 
Hershy Katz, Neve Ya'akov's neighborhood physical planner, in charge of 
coordinating the groups of Russian immigrants, veteran Israeli families, 
ultra-Orthodox schoolchildren, yeshiva students, Ethiopians and the elderly who all come to 
work the land. "I get 2-3 phone calls every week from groups of about 10-15 
people who want to come visit and work in our garden. We have created a unique 
community center through this garden, and we are proud that it is the only one 
of its kind in the country." 

Sipping strong black coffee from small white and blue china teacups in her 
apartment overlooking the garden, Godneva explains that though there have been 
many donors, there is still much work to be done. 

The garden desperately needs a watering system, not for the wildflowers but 
for the recently planted fig and almond trees. In the meantime Godneva has 
devised her own watering system: Every person who wants to walk their dog in the 
sanctuary is assigned a tree. Every time they take the dog, they must also take 
a bottle of water and water "their" tree. 

Godneva enforces this rule from the bird's eye view of her living room couch. 

"If people in this neighborhood didn't know me so well they would think I'm 
crazy. I call down to the schoolchildren I see muddying up the mosaics. I tap 
on the window. Sometimes I even run down the stairs and chase away the goats 
that like to eat the flowers and trees." 

Sasson hopes to continue to save wildflowers from building sites. "There is a 
new building project going on in Neve Ya'akov," she says, "and the 
contractors there already know me by name."

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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