The peak of spring is behind us, the days are getting longer, and the garden is preparing for summer. The carpets of flowers have been replaced by other plants that are now in bloom: mainly shrubs and trees. The days are as yet not too hot and you are invited to stroll through the garden and enjoy it!
Our first encounter is at the entrance of the garden, where you encounter three trees that are dressed up in pink flowers: these are the Pink Trumpet Trees (Handroanthus impetiginosus), that originate in south and central America. The tree’s bark was used for many traditional medicines as well as for preparing a beverage similar to tea. In Israel it is a relatively new ornamental tree, which we were the first to introduce to Israel.
In the South Africa section we cannot but be amazed by the blossoms of the Pincushion shrubs – Leucospermum, of the Protea plant family, with their large and impressive flowering heads that resemble pincushions. In the garden there are two species: in the picture you can see the Silveredge Pincushion (Leucospermum patersonii) from the Western Cape. The second species is the Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ – an ornamental hybrid with red flowers.
The blossoming in the Europe section is amazing in this time of year: the first thing you see when you walk up the path from the garden lake is the Pink Hawk’s Beard (Crepis rubra – on the left). Overlooking the lake is the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus, below on the right) with its greenish-white flowers. Along the upper path you can see the Common Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea, below on the left) in bloom.
Two Horse Chestnut species are already in bloom: the Common Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, on the right) and the Hybrid Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus × carnea ‘Briotii’, on the left). The Common Horse Chestnut is associated with Jewish history at two major junctures: In the First World War, the fruit of the Horse Chestnut was an important source of starch, from which Dr. Haim Weizmann (later to become Israel’s first President) produced Acetone. Back in 1915, while he was a lecturer in the Manchester University in Britain Weizmann developed a fermentation process to produce Acetone from starch. The Acetone was used to create a gun-powder replacement and was important to the British war effort. Potatoes were mostly used as the starch source, but as the food shortage during the war intensified, an inedible source for starch was sought. The Common Horse Chestnut fruit was that source. Winston Churchill, who was Britain’s First Lord of Admiralty at the time, instructed the use of this process for Acetone mass production in Britain. When asked what he wanted in return, Weizmann asked for a national home for the Jewish People. Lord Balfour, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, was impressed by the request, and issued the famous Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917, in which the British Government undertook to establish a national home for the Jewish People in Palestine.
The second connection occurred in the Second World War – a Common Horse Chestnut tree was the tree that Anne Frank saw from the window of the attic where she and her family hid, and described it in her diary.
Still in the Europe section, don’t miss the Common Lilac’s blossoms (Syringa vulgaris): wonderful shrubs covered with flowers in different shades of lilac and violet. We strongly recommend to get close to the flowers and smell them: the Lilac’s fragrance is a sheer joy all over the section, and reminds the immigrants who came from Europe and Russia, of their countries of origin.
Continuing to the Australia section, we shall come across several species of Melaleuca and Bottlebrush shrubs in bloom. In the pictures are the Lemon Bottlebrush (Callistemon pallidus) with its pale flowers that resemble bottlebrushes on the left, and Cross-leaved Honey Myrtle (Melaleuca decussata) with its small flowers on the right. The Honey Myrtle has a sweet smell that attracts bees. Both the Callistemon and the Melaleuca belong to the Myrtle plant family (Myrtaceae), together with the best known Australian representative – the Eucalyptus. These are all recommended water-saving plants.
In the Asia section shrubs of the Honeysuckle (Lonicera) genus are blooming this month. The name Honeysuckle comes from the panicles of flowers they bear, which provide nectar that is as thick as honey.
There are 17 species and hybrids of Honeysuckle. In the picture you can see Lonicera × amoena, a hybrid of two species from Central Asia.
Yellow flames in the Asia and Mediterranean sections? You are not wrong! Several species of Phlomis are in bloom this month. The Phlomis are mostly sub-shrubs with large flowers that grow in whorls around the stem. In the world there are approximately 100 different species of Phlomis, growing from the Mediterranean basin all the way to China.
The Hebrew name and the Scientific name both come from the word ‘flame’: the large yellow blossoms resemble flames, but the name originates from the fact that its leaves were used as lamp wicks in oil lamps.
In the pictures you can see the on the right Sticky Phlomis (Phlomis viscosa), which is common in the Mediterranean region in Israel, and on the left the Sinai Phlomis (Phlomis aurea) from the Sinai desert, which grows in the Asia section.
The Short Yellow Asphodel (Asphodeline brevicaulis) is in bloom this month in the rare plant bed and the sandy bed in the Asia section. If you visit it in the morning, you will probably not notice it at all: the flowers will be closed, and only the green stems are visible. But if you come in the afternoon, after four o’clock – you can see it in its fullglory. The flowers open around16:00 in the afternoon, and remain open until approximately 22:00 in the evening, when they close again. The Short Yellow Asphodel is pollinated by insects that are active during the evening hours, which explains the unusual hours that the flowers are open.
In the rare-species flower bed in the Mediterranean section another rare species is in bloom: the Large Campion (Silene swertiifolia). This is a rare species with large white flowers. The Campion flowers open at night. During the day it doesn’t close its flowers like the Asphodel, but it does roll its petals, and looks less impressive. The best time to see it is in the late afternoon to early evening.
In the Canary Islands subsection of the Mediterranean section you can see this month two plants with impressive blooming: note the Grand Canaria Borage (Echium callithyrsum) with its magnificent purple inflorescences. It originates in the Canary Islands, where it grows on cliffs above the ocean. The Canary Island Sage (Salvia canariensis) is blooming to the side of the path with shades of violet and white. Both these plants are water-saving plants that are recommended for gardening.
We mentioned the Lilac in the Europe section. Its relative – the European Olive (Olea europaea) will be blooming in the Mediterranean section throughout May. The Olive tree has small cream-colored flowers, and a very delicate smell. It is an important tree in the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern culture and kitchen. We are used to looking at its fruit – the olive, but today we recommend that you pay attention to its flowers.
In the northern part of the Mediterranean section you can find two beautiful Lavatera species: the Velvet Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea) and the Bicolor Tree Mallow (Lavatera maritima) which is our plant of the month. Both originate in the Western Mediterranean Basin, and both are water conserving plants. We recommend the Bicolor Tree Mallow as an ornamental plant for the garden. The Velvet tree-Mallow may over-propagate and invade nature.
Visit the rare species flower-bed near the Sunlight Pond in the Mediterranean section. The beautiful flowers of the Rough-leaved Michauxia (Michauxia campanuloides, in the center) – a beautiful cliffs plant from the Galilee. Next to it two species of Mullein (Verbascum) are in bloom: the Galilee Mullein (Verbascum galilaeum, on the right) and the Caesarea Mullein (Verbascum caesareum, on the left). Both are rare and endangered species.
If you visit Nahal Kziv and the Monfort Fortress in the Galilee, you can meet all three plants blooming together with the “hero” of the next paragraph…
We are ending our tour with the one plant you cannot miss this month: the Great Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus). The Snapdragon is in bloom these days all over the garden, adorning it with vibrant pink flowers. This is a durable water-saving plant, with magnificent flowers and a long blooming period. For these reasons, it has been used in recent years for roadside gardening. It is especially prominent along the roads leading up to Jerusalem. Note that the wild type of the Snapdragon, which we are talking about, is perennial, compared to the annual cultivars. Its seeds are sold at the garden shop, and in select nurseries.