When you enter the Botanical Gardens in Givat
Ram, the path that leads into the 250-dunam property is lined with a
striking array of color and scent. This season's floral fanfare
comprises such blooms as anemones, cornflowers, pansies, narcissus,
jonquilles, chrysanthemums, Echinacea, phlox and hollyhocks in varying
shades of purple, pink, mauve, white, burgundy and yellow.
beautiful bounty is the handiwork of Batsheva Kantor (formerly Mink),
curator of the display plant sector of the Gardens. In fact, not only
is she responsible for the arrangement of the array, but she has also
culled and cultivated many of the plants herself.
In 1982 Kantor, then a new immigrant from Sussex, England, was
hired to do research on native plants in Israel to see if they could be
used in local gardens. At the time, the Botanical Gardens was a
workshop under the auspices of the Hebrew University. "They were just
starting to build it, to plant the first 20 dunams. All the rest was
wild and rough ground," recalls the 64-year-old.
She went around the country collecting and compiling native
plants in order to make a seed bank. After assessing which plants would
be compatible with Israeli gardens, she would introduce them into the
Botanical Gardens to grow them there, with the seeds then recycled into
She also went to construction sites and dug up any
rare plants she could find before they were bulldozed into oblivion.
"The blue lupin was practically extinct," she cites as an example. "I
got a handful of them. Now 10,000 of them come up every year at the
According to Kantor, there are approximately 3,500 species of
plants in the country, of which 150 are endemic - i.e., found only in
Israel. "This country has more plants per square kilometer of land than
anywhere else in the world," she asserts.
Kantor also worked with seeds received in a free exchange with other botanical gardens.
A great source of pride for Kantor are the two Tabebuia trees
flourishing on the premises. "The Tabebuia, from South America, is one
of the most magnificent trees in the world," she says. Ten of them had
been given to the nursery; but after eight had died, the curator asked
Kantor to see what she could do with the last two. "I planted them,"
Kantor recounts. "For the first three years it was touch and go. The
next year all the branches were breaking, so I bandaged them and they
started to grow. Now every spring, people come from all over to see
these trees, which are 12 years old."
In 1995 Kantor took on the position of curator of the display
plants. In that capacity, she incorporates wildflowers with display
plants to achieve decorative diversity. Her criteria for what to plant
each season are threefold: which ones are the most attractive, which
ones flower the longest and which are the most interesting. She also
tries to plant as many different varieties as possible.
Kantor always had a green thumb, although her early career was
spent not on the ground but in the air. When she lived in the US, she
worked as a stewardess for TWA. When she was 24 her husband died, and
she moved to the countryside in Sussex with her two young daughters and
worked on local farms, where she was told she was "a natural." Her
interest piqued, she studied botany and horticulture at Plumpton
College of Agriculture and the Glass House Research Institute and
graduated with distinction.
She then began to grow hothouse crops for a living, such as
tomatoes, lettuce and lilies. Although her plants were thriving, her
girls were growing up in an isolated area, which was not good for their
social development, she says. So in 1981, as a dedicated Zionist, she
decided to move the family to Israel. "I thought every Zionist worked
the land. I expected them all to be chopping up the land and growing
crops," she laughs in retrospect.
She also laughs when she recalls her official interview at the
Botanical Gardens. When she arrived in Israel, she applied there for a
job. The director said there was a research position available but no
money to pay her. Disappointed but not disheartened, she enrolled in
ulpan and enjoyed an active social life with the friends she made at
the Mevaseret absorption center.
Eight months later, she was invited to the Botanical Gardens
for an interview. Dressed in her British best, she went to the meeting
in a white silk suit. The director looked at her and said, "Do you
expect to work in that?"
"Why, have I got the job?" she responded.
Now, 28 years later, dressed in loose-fitting gardening garb, Kantor is semi-retired.
She rides her bike to work from her home in Nahlaot, where she
lives with her husband, Richard. She works two and a half days a week,
preparing and digging the soil, adding compost and planting and
weeding. And she always welcomes the help of volunteers.
Today, one-third of the display plants come from the nursery of
the Botanical Gardens; one-third are gifts from Danziger, the largest
grower in Israel; and the other one-third is purchased from local
nurseries through the money she raises. "Every year just before Rosh
Hashana, we have a fund-raiser at the home of Susan Fried, where we
sell orchids for NIS 50 to NIS 130," she says. But she has to dig deep,
as "It's not a Jewish thing to give money for plants. People donate to
education, not vegetation."
But what many people don't realize, says Kantor, is that the
Botanical Gardens is an important locale for learning. "We have schools
from all over the country visiting, as well as students from
universities in Israel and abroad."
It is important to support such environmental studies, she
insists, because "You cannot go against nature: It fights back, and it
has the last word."