The not-so-secret garden

A Jerusalem resident beautifies his neighborhood.

flowers 88 (photo credit: )
flowers 88
(photo credit: )
Once upon a time in the tranquil and otherwise leafy neighborhood of San Simon, there was a plot of land that nobody wanted. Occasionally blades of grass would poke through the broken concrete only to be flattened by rubble from a nearby building site or the odd municipal bulldozer sent to obliterate intrepid weeds. Today, however, rosemary, irises, wild mint, periwinkle, geraniums, buddleias, lemon grass and olive trees now fill the space, and it's all thanks to the determination of one green-fingered resident. For the past five years, Shimrit Ginott has spent up to an hour every day revamping this 3,000 square meter area, which lies just outside her apartment building. "I've always been interested in plants but not necessarily in gardening," she explains. "I started with the little plot that belongs to our building and once I was reasonably satisfied there, I asked my neighbors for permission to use our water to irrigate another area of land beyond our fence." Patch by patch, concrete slowly turned to a jumble of wild and ornamental flowers, shrubs and trees. Rather than the manicured flowerbeds of a gardening fanatic, the San Simon community garden is a haven for botanists and butterflies alike. "It's been a very gradual process," Ginott continues. "I started by watering individual plants by hand. Most things I propagated from cuttings and then some people have given us surplus plants which they had on their balconies. Then there were a few things we bought. Now seven apartment blocks donate water to irrigate the garden. I like to think of it working a little bit like a snowball." However, frost has been the least of her problems. The first few tree seedlings planted on the edge of the garden were promptly flattened by a municipal bulldozer and only a few months ago debris from the neighboring building site left irrigation lines broken and shrubs destroyed. After some polite words of explanation about the blossoming project, the garden is looking less flat nowadays and while the builders have since donated paving stones for steps, the municipality now even supplies some of the water needed for irrigation. "However, I've realized that we must plant things that are very noticeable and that will be attractive well before the trees show," Ginott adds. Unwanted guests will now also have to answer to a pack of irate neighbors, because as the garden has grown, so too has the affection of the local residents. Apart from donating water, plants and truckloads of soil, many of Ginott's neighbors have becoming increasingly protective of the plot - reprimanding anyone who dares litter and even fixing broken irrigation pipes. "It's very nice to see how the garden has become dear to the people who live here," says Ginott. The residents of San Simon now have an attractive slice of biodiversity on their doorstep. "Of course, the general idea is that it becomes a pleasant place for them to walk with their dogs and their children," she explains. "They can meet each other and we can become good neighbors." They are also invited to pick from the selection of herbs on offer, meticulously signposted with plaques donated by a municipal garden for those who cannot tell their Micromeria fruticosa from their Mentha longifolia. It is no surprise that, in the process, Ginott has become somewhat of a guru to the gardeners who work in the private backyards of the surrounding apartment blocks. Proving that the weed is in the eye of the beholder, she explains with a smile how one gardener timidly asked her for a cutting from one of her flowering shrubs only to be told that it was, in fact, a wild plant native to the area. Pointing to a silver-barked tree next to the road, Ginott adds: "This is a tree that most gardeners are told to get rid of. In France it is completely illegal to have it because it has lots of seeds and they germinate easily." However, in this garden it remains untouched and is the home of one nesting woodpecker. "We like to live in peace with everyone as much as possible," she says. And with plants picked out to attract other species of birds and insects, the residents of San Simon are not the only ones who can now live happily ever after in the city's latest patch of peace.