In the Garden: All about the trees

Ultimately, I suppose, it's all about the trees.Were it not for the tree of knowledge and its succulent fruit, therewould be no good or evil, no right or wrong, no sin, and no death.

Evenbefore Adam and Eve partook of forbidden fruit, trees were involved inan act of disobedience. It happened on the third day of creation whenGod ordered the earth to bring forth trees with wood as sweet andedible as their fruit. Instead, trees developed stems and branches andtrunks that were good for making fires and furniture but not foreating.

In the year 1570, at the funeral of Moshe Cordovero in Safed,Isaac Luria implicated "the tree" in the death of his saintly friend.In Luria's eulogy of Cordovero, he quoted from Deuteronomy 21:22. Thisverse states that, after a person is executed for committing a capitalcrime/sin, you should hang him from a tree. Luria pointed out that theword for sin (het) also means "lack" and that the word for hang (talita) also means "blame." In other words, if someone dies without having sinned, as in the case of a tzadiksuch as Cordovero, you should blame it on the tree (of knowledge), bywhich the phenomenon of inescapable physical death entered the world.

Trees also provide an environment for licentiousness, and theprophets warn the people not to engage in immorality under their leafyboughs. The ashera was a tree that was planted next to shrinesof idol worshipers and, therefore, the prophets would not allow treesto be planted near altars where God's sacrificial service wasperformed.

Yet trees, just as they can lead to sin, can also be objects of holiness. We know that Abraham planted a tamarisk (eshel)in Beersheba, under which he provided hospitality to desert travelers.Jacob planted trees in Egypt, which he promised would be cut down andcarried away at the moment of the exodus, to inspire the people andcontinually remind them of their ultimate redemption. Indeed, the woodfrom Jacob's trees would eventually be used in construction of the mishkan or mobile sanctuary that was utilized for worship during 40 years of desert travel.

And in Avot de Rabbi Natan, Yohanan Ben Zakkai says: "Ifyou have a sapling in your hand and are told that the messiah has come,first plant the sapling, then go out to greet the messiah." How fittingthat planting a tree should take precedence over greeting the messiah!This bold act certifies that the arrival of the messiah will usher in anew reality where sin and death, introduced through a tree, no longerhold sway.

WHEN DISCUSSING the water shortage and itsimplications for garden design, attention is usually focused on shrubsand low-growing flowering perennials that have minimal waterrequirements. Often overlooked in this discussion, however, are thebenefits provided by trees. In general, established trees need littlewater while, at the same time, they provide sun protection and reducewater stress in the plants growing nearby.

In general, there is not much room for trees in the small yardsand gardens outside the multi-unit buildings where most Israelis live.Yet there are a number of small to medium-sized trees that meritconsideration where garden space is limited.

Most leguminous trees are well-suited to our climate and soilconditions. They can live in deserts and other infertile soils due totheir roots, which live in symbiosis with nitrate producing bacteriaand, therefore, do not require fertilization. Notable among leguminoustrees are many acacia (shita in Hebrew) species. Acacia trees,native to Australia and East Africa, put forth golden yellow flowerpuffs in late winter and early spring. Acacias grow quickly in almostany soil and require little water. At maturity, they are no more thansix to nine meters tall. A good example is Acacia baileyana, the golden mimosa. Its blue-gray feathery leaves impart an unparalleled softness to the tree's canopy. Acacia baileyana purpurea, a variety with violet-tinted foliage, is also noteworthy. The knife acacia (Acacia cultriformis) has fascinating triangular leaves, and the Sydney golden wattle (Acacia longiflora) produces scads of flowers in pendant, butter-yellow chains.

The mimosa or silk tree (Albizia julibrissin), with itsfeathery foliage and wispy pink flowers, is another notable leguminoustree. It is a fast grower with a funnel-shaped form. "Chocolate Summer"is a captivating silk tree cultivar with purple-bronze leaves. Mesquite(Prosopis), from the North American desert, has lush foliage and a black trunk. Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) has a perfectly symmetrical domed canopy, furrowed bark and white flowers. The western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) has brilliant magenta flowers and heart-shaped leaves, while the eastern redbud "Forest Pansy" (Cercis canadensis) has fascinating purple foliage. Rounding out the list of moderate sized leguminous trees is the gold medallion tree (Cassia leptophylla).Its panicles of deep yellow flowers followed by leathery, dark-brownseed pods that are half a meter in length, leave a lasting impression.

Fruit trees enhance any garden and most of them do fine with asingle weekly soaking. Put a slowly trickling hose just inside the dripline, so-called because this is where water drips off a tree when itrains, directly below the canopy perimeter, and leave it there forseveral hours. Alternatively, circle your tree along the canopyperimeter line with drip irrigation tubing. These days, most fruittrees are grafted on to dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks so that theygrow no taller than a manageable height of two to three meters.

Fall is the best time of year to plant every kind of tree. Fallplanting allows tree roots to grow rapidly in soil that is still warmfrom summer's heat. At the same time, air temperature has cooled sotree foliage and bark will not be scorched. Also, fall planting ensuresthat every drop of winter rain will be available to your young tree sothat it can settle nicely into the garden before the heat of spring andsummer comes.n

Yehoshua Siskin welcomes questions pertaining to your garden. E-mail him at: