A blossoming city

With the arrival of spring, Jerusalem’s garden flowers awaken with full pomp and circumstance.

Lady Banks in Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lady Banks in Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Holy City. The City of David. Jerusalem of Gold.
This last appellation, made famous in the chorus of Naomi Shemer’s eponymous song, is especially appropriate in the spring, when so many plants in the capital are festooned with gilded flowers. As a bonus, it seems that just about every plant blooming in gold or yellow has a significant measure of drought tolerance. These plants are judicious garden selections against the backdrop of our ongoing water crisis.
On Derech Beit Lehem in the German Colony, for example, opposite the Paz station, two massive botanical treasures are covered with golden flowers. The first is an astonishing specimen of the climbing rose known as Lady Banks (Rosa banksiae “Lutea”). The plant in question has grown up the façade of a two-story building and has covered it almost completely, displaying many thousands of miniature double roses.
Lady Banks roses do not generally make the list of vining ornamental plants, even though they deserve a place at the top of that list. They require some training in their first few years of growth, but once they get the hang of it and start to surge vertically, nothing will stop them. Alternatively, you could plant a Lady Banks rose in the center of your garden and just let it grow into a huge fountain, its shoots arching up and over like jets of water. There is also a Lady Banks “Alba” you may wish to consider, whose roses are white.
Although they only bloom in the spring, an advantage of Lady Banks roses is their resistance to the many pests and diseases found among the perpetually blooming hybrid teas.
Only a short distance from this Lady Banks specimen is the largest bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) I have ever seen. It must be in the perfect spot, because it is bursting with golden flower clusters, which are seldom seen in such abundance on bay laurels. Still, gardeners are generally unconcerned with bay laurel flowers, since the plant’s claim to fame is its foliage, known as bay leaves or alei dafna, used for culinary purposes.
The leaves of bay laurels are also famous for being incorporated into the wreaths placed on the heads of Roman emperors.
Although this bay laurel has matured into a robust tree 20 meters high, you can plant rows of them and keep them trimmed into hedges of any height, even as short as one meter. Bay laurels grow best when partially shaded. Care should be taken to protect them from the day’s hottest sun, or sunburned foliage will appear.
Not too far away on Derech Beit Lehem, as you approach the Delek station – on a slope that borders the new greenway project – is a large display of primrose or popcorn jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi). In the manner of the Lady Banks rose, popcorn jasmine has a naturally fountainesque growth habit, with arching stems. However, it can also be trained up a trellis, where its mildly scented flowers will be shown off to maximum effect.
Italian jasmine (Jasminum humile) is another frequently encountered shrub in Jerusalem. It grows up to 3 m. tall, with butter-yellow flowers that may be seen at any time of the year.
Yellow trumpet vine or cat’s claw (Macfadyena unguis-cati) is a brilliantly flowering vine that can survive on a bare minimum of annual rain, putting forth scads of glossy, green leaves and bright yellow trumpet flowers each spring. Owing to its durability, as well as its capacity to root wherever a shoot touches the ground, cat’s claw has been utilized as a ground cover in hard-to-maintain, out-of-the-way places, as well as on slopes to prevent erosion.
Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a fragrant vine, growing more than 2 m. tall, with neon gold, yet soft, funnel-shaped blooms. It is native to the southern US and possesses medicinal properties. Used in correct dosages, Carolina jessamine alkaloids, extracted from the plant’s roots, produce analgesic effects.
According to the classic A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, Gelsemium “relaxes all the muscles; it relieves, by its action on the general system, all sense of pain.”
Bulbinella nutans is an unforgettable ground cover that produces dramatic golden flower torches at this time of year. It naturalizes in any sort of soil, from damp to dry, through vegetative propagation of its bulbs and by self-sowing of its seeds. Bulbinella, currently on display at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, completely disappears during dry summer months – its period of dormancy – but reliably reappears with the onset of cool weather in the fall. A slope covered with glowing Bulbinella torches is a breathtaking sight, and ogling it is the only maintenance required. Make sure you plant Bulbinella nutans, available in yellow or orange, since there are other Bulbinella species found in the nursery trade, yet none as hypnotically delightful as this one.
Most gardeners are familiar with the Euryops pectinatus daisy, a tough flowering shrub that seems to be nearly always in bloom with golden daisies that are complemented by finely cut deep green or gray foliage. Euryops virgineus, also encountered in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, is an equally gardenworthy shrub. Its flowers are much smaller, yet even more abundant, than those of its cousin, and its leaves are narrower and more delicate. It also grows taller, eventually reaching about 2 m. in height.
None of the plants mentioned here should require irrigation more than once a week, whether water is administered through a slowly trickling hose or through drip emitters, even during the hottest weather.