The joys of a garden


Land is scarce in Jerusalem, so I can consider myself very fortunate to have a small plot of land attached to my house. It is divided into terraced sections because of the lay of the land, which is actually the side of a hill. Thus the back of my house is protected by the hillside that abuts it and we have no windows on that side, providing the building with excellent insulation. Luckily the front of the house gets a lot of light, offsetting the fact that two sides have no windows at all.

Most of the garden is devoted to grass and the shrubs that grow along the fence and screen us from the outside world, but one small part of the garden is devoted to flowers. By a long process of trial and error I think I have found more or less the right combinations to plant at the various seasons, thereby providing a constant show of colour that catches the eye as one enters the driveway and ascends the twelve stone steps that lead up to the level on which the house is built.

When we bought our house, some twenty-five years ago, when it was just a hole in the ground and a plan on paper, we pondered at length which of the four buildings in the row to choose. Others had the same interior layout but slightly larger gardens and it was tempting to go for one of them. But then it struck us that because of the downward slope of the road on which they were situated, the other houses had many more steps to climb in order to reach the front door. Similar houses in a parallel but more desirable road had an equal number of steps that one would have to descend in order to reach one’s front door, but the thought of climbing twenty or more stairs just to leave the house was not very enticing. Besides, those houses were more expensive.

So we went for the first house in the row, the one with the least number of stairs to go up from the road, thinking at the time of our elderly parents and not imagining that one day we ourselves would benefit from our foresight.

But apart from the convenience of access to the house, the garden has played a major role in our off-duty activities. The grass requires attention every now and again, and our automatic watering system doesn’t do a terribly good job of reaching all parts of it, but it is nonetheless pleasant to look out of the house and see a patch of green. The weeds that seem to enjoy harassing us tend to come and go with the seasons of the year, and provided we keep cutting the grass at reasonable intervals they are more or less manageable. That is the main task of the man of the house.

But it is the part with the flowers that is my pride and joy. This year, possibly because of the slow-release fertilizer that I sprinkled on that area a few months ago, it has flourished as never before. Earlier in the year, in the cold winter months, the cyclamens put up a lovely show, and in spring it was most notably the snapdragons and pansies that brought joy to my heart, with their veritable paintbox of colour.

I wanted to plant some godetias, those bright pink, white and purple plants that have been imported from South America and have become almost native in these parts, but once again I missed the planting season. So I have decided to keep a gardening diary to remind myself what to plant when, and when to prune and cut other plants. I know that the late Walter Frankel used to have a regular gardening column in the Jerusalem Post, and even published books about gardening in Jerusalem, but I’ve found that my particular garden has its own quirks and foibles, and doesn’t keep to the rules (probably much like me).

And so, under ‘January’ I’ve written ‘buy and plant godetias, pansies, snapdragons’ and under ‘May’ I’ve written ‘buy and plant petunias, bosmat and winkas,’ and hope that in the intervening months the slow-release fertilizer will do its work. When we come back from our summer holiday it will be time to start on the chrysanthemums, and hopefully they’ll continue to provide colour until it’s time to start with the cyclamens again.

There are few pleasures in life greater than the joy of seeing the flowers that I bought in their infancy from the nursery grow and flourish and fill the garden with a rainbow of colour.