The majestic Ramat Hanadiv gardens, built as a memorial to Baron Edmund de Rothschild, conceal an intricate series of ecology projects.“Green” architecture and landscaping combine with untamed nature to offer visitors a place to fill the eye with beauty and the spirit with tranquility.Paths wander through lush lawns and theme gardens.Only one garden is laid out in formal European style – the rose garden, where among many varieties grows a rose named for the baron.Observation points invite you to gaze at vistas of the Mediterranean Sea or the Samarian hills, or to pause and listen to the sea breeze rustling through the branches in a garden where 20 kinds of palm trees grow.From late winter to early spring, rare irises bloom as they do in their natural habitat, without irrigation.A fountain’s gentle music announces the entrance to a fragrance garden, where flowering plants offer perfume and texture to blind and visually challenged visitors. Birdsong fills the air.Because no harmful pesticides are used in gardening, small wildlife like lizards and chameleons safely inhabit the verges and often dart across the paths. Bees and butterflies find plenty of foraging throughout the gardens, and the facility even has an area – the Footprint Garden – dedicated to those valuable insects; it’s planted with specific shrubs and flowers that attract them.Through the dazzling mix of lawns and woods, enclosed gardens and sweeping vistas, there runs an undercurrent of land stewardship that you won’t notice at first, but which gradually stands out if you care to look.It begins right at the entrance to the gardens. Green architecture ensures that natural sunlight streams through a seam in the visitors’ center and office roofs, eliminating the need for electric lighting during working hours. At the same time, a geothermal system ensures that rooms stay cool in summer and comfortably warm in winter. The Ramat Hanadiv buildings were the first in the country to receive the green stamp of approval for ecological building from the Environmental Protection Ministry.This year is the first that shmita (the sabbatical year) is being observed in the gardens, so annual flowers that usually fill in borders and tree squares were not replanted. This led to a creative project that involved many of the country’s retirement homes: Seniors fashioned ceramic flowers to fill in the empty spaces where those annual flowers usually grow. Many bear handwritten mottoes and messages on their colorful ceramic petals.“It fits us so well, after six years of effort and work, to have an entire year for resting and letting the land rest,” says my guide, Ronit. “Like the weekly Shabbat and the academic sabbatical year, the gardens now have shmita.”Everything taken away from the land is used again.Trees that had to be removed are broken down into wood chips to mulch the gardens. “We were composting before it became fashionable,” remarks Ronit.Earth displaced by construction has been redistributed to become the foundations of the roof gardens that cover the buildings. The roof gardens sustain not only grass and herbs, but shrubs and even olive and pistachio trees. Displaced stones become part of benches and raised gardens. The water that runs through the fountains and pools has been recycled from kitchen and restroom gray water in the facility’s own filtration system.As befits a memorial garden, here and there you come upon sculptures hinting at the passage of time.
A stone woman balancing a sundial looks up at the infinite sky. Sculptured hands poised over a pool let water stream through their stone fingers, like uncapturable time itself. Carved into the rock at the heart of the garden is the crypt of the baron and his wife, Ada.There, a pool where pink water lilies float borders the Egyptian-style entrance, and a stone cup fixed to the wall gently overflows, as if forever weeping the baron’s passing.But the baron specified that he didn’t want his memorial to be a sad place, so the entire facility is planned to celebrate living nature in the land the great philanthropist loved best. The key notes are guarding natural resources and offering ecological education via workshops, group activities and volunteer opportunities. Among the educational environments are a therapeutic garden for people with physical and psychiatric disabilities, and a very good dairy restaurant run – under the eye of the chef – by at-risk teens.The gardens themselves comprise 7 hectares (17 acres), only 3 (7) of which are landscaped. The rest are left to their natural state, so that human visitors can enjoy watching the change of the seasons by day, while animal visitors emerge and roam the gardens at night. It seems like plenty of land, yet a vaster stewardship surrounds the gardens: 400 hectares (988 acres) of nature reserve rise, then slope down the southern Carmel ridge.
The nature reserve offers hiking trails that pass through ruins of a Byzantine manor; the Ein Tzur water system and wetland, where the ruins of a Roman aqueduct and bathhouse stand; an ancient quarry; a vulture rehabilitation center – and many more sites than this article has room for. See the website for full descriptions and to check length and suitability of hikes.The nature reserve shields 42 species of rare plants and is an important factor in the conservation of native fauna at risk. According to the website, “Ramat Hanadiv is an oasis for persecuted wildlife, and animals which are notoriously hard to observe in other parts of the country can easily be viewed in the area.”Among those animals are the Egyptian mongoose, Eurasian badger, wild boar, roe deer, mountain gazelle and Indian crested porcupine. Birds of prey nest in the reserve, and the area itself is a passageway for bird migration, with thousands of birds crossing the skies there in the autumn. Research concerned with sustaining the reserve’s biodiversity is ongoing, in the management’s spirit of land stewardship.Seed conservation is another of the facility’s many ecological projects. Rare plants are raised both outdoors in the gardens and in the nursery; seeds are sent to the Israel Gene Bank and to the Royal Horticultural Society’s World Gene Bank in England.The baron, who put his wealth into the development of Israel’s agriculture and communities, would have been proud.The gardens offer activities and guided tours for families and groups. There is a 15-minute film in English, Hebrew, Russian and Arabic that relates the history of the Rothschild family and how Ramat Hanadiv came to be. It runs every half hour and is worth viewing before setting out on your walk through the gardens.Groups must reserve the auditorium, which seats no more than 35.In the summer, there are also concerts on the lawns and night activities. You can visit the website for full information, or call the InfoShop (details below).How to get there: Drive along Route 652 between Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina. Turn off westward at the sign pointing to Ramat Hanadiv.Visiting hours: Sunday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.Cost: Entrance to the gardens is free. Guided tours and workshops require a fee, and must be previously arranged at the InfoShop: (04) 629- 8111.Accessibility: The gardens are entirely wheelchair- accessible except for five steps leading to the crypt.Website: www.ramathanadiv.org.il