A garden in the city

A New Rochelle couple brings style, class and greenery to Jerusalem’s Old City.

Home garden (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
Home garden
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
The people who live in this apartment are passionate gardeners.
When they resided in New Rochelle, New York, their nearly 1-hectare (2.47-acre) garden was chosen to be in the National Garden Conservancy, whereby outstanding gardens are opened to the public and become part of a plan to preserve and share them for posterity.
Only 400 are chosen annually, so the gardens in question are clearly exceptional.
“We actually had three gardens,” says the owner, a retired head and neck tumor surgeon. “We had a Japanese garden, a woodland garden and a grotto.”
Both in their 80s, the couple moved into their Musrara apartment a year-and-a-half ago and began to create a Jerusalem garden as best they could.
Everything is growing in pots, including some very healthy-looking kumquat trees already heavy with fruit.
“In our garden in the US we used to work together – I did the heavy schlepping and my wife tended the borders,” he says.
Per the National Conservancy, even one weed was enough to disqualify a garden; here, you would search in vain for a dried-up leaf or a shriveled stalk.
Although not religious, the couple has children who are, including one son who is a rabbi, so they planned the garden for the present shmita sabbatical year and nothing new will be planted.
“We put in a lot of geraniums, which will go through the winter, and the basic greenery will stay,” says the wife, who for 20 years ran a gourmet catering business with her sister in America.
For many years they had a small apartment in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, but when they decided to move here permanently, they wanted something bigger.
“Until we found this apartment, my husband was never happy with what we saw,” says the wife. “But the minute we walked in here, we knew it was right. Every door opens out to the two garden balconies, and although it’s in the middle of the city, you see a lot of greenery around.”
They brought much of their furniture from the New Rochelle house, and found it fit well into their new Jerusalem home. Designer Shari Har-Tuv was brought in to help with the interior design.
“The furniture in the living room was all reproduction Sheraton, but I’ve had it so long it’s almost become genuine antique,” says the lady of the house with a smile.
The entire set, which includes a sideboard, a vitrine, easy chairs and a dining room table and chairs, fits comfortably into the living room, in style as well as size. The vitrine is filled with antique porcelain and other treasures. To accommodate books, decorative bronzes and other ornaments, they had white shelving custom built for the space around the door to the garden.
“We weren’t able to bring everything from our house, but we couldn’t part with the silver candlesticks on the sideboard,” says the wife. “They are 18th-century English silver, made by Matthew Boulton, and my mother bought them in London years ago.”
The master bedroom has a striking display of red and black flower prints and pillows on twin electric beds, and an ornamental headboard from Ikea.
“We used to rent the apartment on a short-term basis to tourists and when we decided to live here ourselves, we took out all the Ikea furniture and brought our own,” they say. “But we really liked the headboard, so we decided to leave it. The bedside tables are also from Ikea.”
The built-in closets in the bedroom and elsewhere in the apartment were all done by Ron Donbe, himself an immigrant from England. The bedside tables are on wheels, as is much of the other furniture in the apartment.
An ottoman at the end of the bed provides useful storage while inside the closet, a whole section has been fitted out to store a shoe collection.
Between the lounge and bedrooms, floor-to-ceiling cupboards provide more storage including a place to keep mops and brooms. The pretty writing corner with its old French desk coexists happily with the storage units.
Before leaving, we take another look at the garden and note the Armenian tiled artwork filling the niches, the gourd-like gurgling fountain and the elegant cream and brown chaise lounges offering a tempting place to sit and view the surrounding beauty.
“These were made by Richard Schultz, an award-winning outdoor furniture maker in the States,” say the couple. “We’ve had them for many years, but they still look good and are very comfortable.”
Hard work, good taste and incredibly green thumbs are all one needs to have a lovely garden in the heart of Jerusalem.