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Petal project

Wildflowers will go forth from Jerusalem

Named for flower lover Nechama Rivlin, the late wife of former president Reuven Rivlin, a community-based project at Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens aims to save rare flowers

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • Packaging heritage flower seeds for sale at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)
    Packaging heritage flower seeds for sale at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)
  • Volunteers packaging heritage flower seeds at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)
    Volunteers packaging heritage flower seeds at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)
  • Some of the heritage seed packets at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)
    Some of the heritage seed packets at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Courtesy Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)

Skip the hanging geraniums and bright-hued impatiens for the garden. Jerusalem’s Botanical Gardens wants Israelis to plant seeds from its Nechama Rivlin Save the Wildflower Initiative in order to bring back indigenous wildflowers to the region.

The rescued wildflowers include purple lupines and yellow anemones, rare triple flaxseed, pink thistle flowers and white sage, the purple bells of Boissier’s Barbbell and the Crusaders’ Sicilian Snapdragon — some 35 species in all.

“Once Israel had a campaign of not picking the wildflowers. Now we’re encouraging people to grow them,” said Yotam Reshef, who runs Hubitus, the hub for urban sustainability at the Gardens.

The seed project is named for former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin’s wife, Nechama Rivlin, who died in 2019 and was a great supporter of the Botanical Gardens. At the time, the seeds project was a small part of the overall hub, whose aim is to connect the larger Jerusalem and Israeli community to the gardens.

While heritage seeds have always been grown, harvested, gathered and protected at the Gardens, and traded with other botanical gardens in Israel and the world, the seeds project was upgraded in order to return these flowers to locals’ gardens.

“We want to have more influence in how Israelis protect our wildflowers,” said Reshef. “We want Israelis to grow these seeds, to strengthen Israeli flora and fauna.”

A poster of heritage wildflower seeds rescued and now being sold at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)

Working with a team of volunteers, including retirees, teens and young adults with special needs, the hub gathers seeds at the end of spring and summer, cleans them, packs them in bags and then helps handle the sale and distribution through the hub website.

“We want them to get as far as possible,” Reshef said. “We teach people how to collect the flowers’ seeds at the end of the season and let them sprout again.”

Each bag of seeds, which can be ordered from the seed store at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, includes a full explanation of when and how to plant the seeds. There are Zoom lectures as well, offering historical accounts of the flowers and their survival.

Yotam Reshef, who runs Hubitus, the hub for urban sustainability at the Gardens (Jerusalem Botanical Gardens)

Reshef hopes to get seeds to schools and kindergartens, where teachers can grow wildflower gardens throughout the year, showing students how to pick a location, plant the seeds, watch the flowers grow and then harvest the seeds at the end of the spring.

The coming Jewish year is a shmita or sabbatical year in Judaism’s seven-year agricultural cycle, when flowers, plants and trees are left to grow of their own accord, but new growth can be planted prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, noted Reshef.

The wildflowers thrive easily, he added, because the project weeded out the types that were difficult to grow. They’re also viable in balcony planters as well as in backyard gardens.

“We want people to succeed,” said Reshef, adding that anyone who plants the seeds can call or email the Gardens’ staff for advice.

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