A flourishing success

After a two-decade hiatus, the Haifa International Flower Show is back – with more than half a million blooms.

The Shkedia in bloom (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
The Shkedia in bloom
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Mention the word “Israel” to a hundred different people, and you are likely to get at least a hundred different responses. In any sort of word association game, nothing beats the name of our country for the wide range of images it brings to mind, both throughout the world and right here at home. The word “Israel” is almost a Rorschach test that tells us more about the person hearing it than about Israel itself.
Depending upon who, what and where they are, when people hear “Israel” mentioned, they are liable to think of war, peace, holiness, sexiness, history, hi-tech, redemption, oppression, white cities by the sea, lonely settlements on hilltops, Jews, Arabs, King David, Jesus, secular and Orthodox, left wing and right wing, Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, Hamas and Hezbollah, Gaza and Iran.
Or they might think of flowers.
As one result of the Zionist ideal to reclaim the Land of Israel and “make the desert bloom,” it is today almost impossible to cast one’s glance anywhere in this country without seeing flowers – some kind of flowers – somewhere in the immediate vicinity.
Flowers are everywhere, especially in cities, decorating everything from gardens to window boxes, from playgrounds to the front yards of old apartment buildings.
Visitors and new immigrants are often struck by both the quality and quantity of flowers visible virtually everywhere, with impressive floral displays growing not only in parks but even in intersection rotaries and narrow traffic medians in the middle of residential side streets. Flowers proliferate throughout Israel, even in the darkest, rainiest days of winter.
Israel not only loves flowers but exports them as well. From a floricultural industry that began modestly in the early 1960s, Israel was earning close to $60 million by the year 2000. Israel today is a major player in the global flower industry, especially as a supplier of traditional European flowers during the winter months. Israel is third only to the Netherlands and Kenya in supplying the European Union with flowers; and Israel’s export of cut flowers, flower stems (1.5 billion annually), plants and propagation material together bring upwards of $200m. into the economy every year.
Considering Israel’s evident love affair with flowers, it should come as no surprise that one of the first major public events to occur in this country was a flower show, held in Haifa, in 1951. Throughout the fledgling nation’s early years, the Haifa International Flower Show was a major annual event occurring during Passover, attracting flower lovers, experts, designers and gardeners from all over Israel and around the world, as well as huge crowds. People now well into middle age recall being taken to the show as children, as show organizers strove to make the exhibition a family event. The flower show continued to grow as the years went by, until finally coming to an end in the early 1990s.
But now it is back, bigger and more spectacular than all of the previous shows. The Haifa International Flower Exhibition comes back to life this Passover, with the hope of delighting a new generation of visitors. Says Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, “It is very exciting to bring back the International Flower Show to Haifa with the budding of Spring. Apart from the wonderful experience, this is a real cultural event. Visitors to the show will be able to enjoy these rare creations of nature and life, even more a rarity in this age of endless digital technology.”
Organizers of the exhibition emphasize that while they are reviving a tradition, the new flower show will be a state-of-the-art exhibition, presented in a unique and wholly new way. Planned as the largest flower show ever to be staged in Israel, the International Flower Exhibition will be spread across 30 acres in Hecht Park, near the seashore at the southern outskirts of Haifa. More than half a million flowers will be displayed in nine huge geodesic domes, each dome representing a different conceptual “flower world.”
These floral environments will include Flower World, Paris Boulevard, The Hanging Gardens, Land of the Rising Sun, Wild World, Senses Land, Fantasy Land, Never Land and the Vanishing Garden. Visitors are invited to stroll through the “flower worlds” and experience each world’s environment of soft scents, gentle music, sights and colors.
A wide range of activities, aimed at all ages, will take place alongside the geodesic flower worlds, including a sculpture and herb garden, flower carpets, topiary gardens, a flower market, planting and seeding workshops, environmental workshops and more. As night descends, a varicolored light display will illuminate the park.
Gaston Zahr, Meirav Eitan and Drorit Gonen of the Haifa-based O*GE Creative Group are the architects responsible for the overall design of the exhibition, including the geodesic domes.
“The flowers that go inside the domes are not our department,” says chief architect Zahr, with laughter.
“We thought there should be some combination between an indoor and outdoor exhibition.
We took Hecht Park, which is located near the shoreline, and is on a mountain descending into the sea. We closed the park and we’ve been creating a lot of outdoor exhibitions, nine geodesic domes. Each of these domes will be a specific thematic world.
“It’s not going to be just a plain flower show, like in Germany, for example, where you have the presentation of flower carpets. What we tried to do was to create some kind of multisensory experience, where you are really walking through flowers and something is really happening there. Some of the domes are 10 meters high, and we’re filling up those domes with various scenes, like one with city scenes, another dome will be turned into a giant aquarium. It’s a combination between showing thousands and thousands of flowers and creative design. It has many show elements aside from the flowers, like light shows combined with gentle sounds. Something interesting for everybody.”
Zahr and his associates are particularly grateful for the design opportunities afforded by the park itself.
“Hecht Park is marvelous. It has a varied topography, with small hills and valleys. And we’re creating flower gardens there, while also filling up a river. And there will be live birds – all to create a sort of biotope there. We’re constructing a kind of big flowery bouquet on the mountain there, where each flower is something like 16 to 18 meters in altitude, following the slope of the mountain.”
Filling the flower world domes and mountainsides with flowers may not be the architects’ department, but it is the job – or perhaps the obsession – of Benzi Gil, Israel’s leading flower designer. Among his numerous awards, Gil won first place for Israel at the Holland Flower Arranging Competition in 2007, marking the first time in the history of the competition in which the top award did not go to Holland. Gil is working at the Haifa flower show in collaboration with his Dutch partner Alexander Zilmans, one of the world’s most prominent flower experts, whose expertise lies in designing arrangements for largescale family, diplomatic and royal events, such as the Iceland summit for US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
Now 61 years old, Gil has been involved with flowers, he says, for more than 40 years.
“My parents had a flower shop. I was born with flowers. I have done this all my life.”
How does he design flowers for an event such as this? “It’s about using different varieties of flowers, different colors, and different materials. It’s difficult to explain. It’s hard to describe. You just have to see it.”
Gil says that the various displays will involve the work of more than 100 people during the week-long exhibition. And they will be busy, according to Gil. On top of everything else, like arranging and installing the enormous displays, the more than 500,000 flowers in the exhibition must be changed every other day.
The 2012 Haifa International Flower Exhibition will run from April 7 to 14, at Hecht Park, Begin Way, South Haifa, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For further information, visit www.haifaflower.co.il.