A Biblical Garden in the Promised Land

By Ann Goldberg

A Biblical Garden in the Promised Land

Always avid gardeners back in the UK, my husband and I weren’t about to give up our favorite pastime without a fight when we moved to Jerusalem in 1975. Our dream was to plant Biblical plants and trees – those that were mentioned in the Bible as being indigenous to the Holy Land.

So when we were lucky enough to find an apartment with a small garden (a rarity in Jerusalem) we planted a small vine, a fig tree and a pomegranate tree.

We weren’t exactly experts on the specific difficulties of gardening in Israel. I guess we decided it was probably more or less the same as in Britain, just hotter – about 20 degrees Celsius hotter.

But things didn’t turn out exactly the way we had imagined.

Our grapes were a bitter bunch. We later learned that grapes need a lot of water all the year round, which our little pocket-sized vineyard didn’t receive, as there is no rain here for eight months of the year. Water is a scarce and precious commodity, and we didn’t want to be frowned upon by our neighbours for wasting it on our frivolous desire to have a back yard vine.

For years these inedible grapes kept appearing and eventually dropping to the ground. Sometimes the vine surrounding these small bunches was so jungle-like that the first time we realised that they were growing somewhere underneath it all was when we smelt the rotting fruit.

The pomegranate tree also didn’t turn out exactly the way we had envisaged. It usually produced ONE perfect pomegranate high up at the top of its uppermost branches. I guess the fruit was desperately searching for the blazing sun that was obscured by the foliage of the withering vine. Our back yard was very small so everything was inevitably planted close together.

Don’t even ask about the fig tree. Anyone who heard that we had a fig tree in our tiny garden gave us that withering look that said “silly foreigners.”

OK we know now that it wasn’t such a great idea. Have we ever eaten a fig? Well maybe one or possibly two over the last 30 years. The trouble is that they usually fall from the tree before they are ripe, and if they don’t, then the birds eat them before we can.

Also the guy at the plant nursery never told us how fast it would grow.

We planted a tiny tree all those years back, but it just kept on and on growing and growing. Now it’s enormous and has taken over the entire garden and over the fence to one neighbor…and over the hedge onto the path between our home and other neighbors – always dropping its unripe fruit over paths, patios and porches.

The sensible thing to do would be to uproot it – get rid of it – forget all those stupid crazy ideas we had.

But getting rid of trees is not a simple matter in The Holy Land.

There are two problems; the local municipality and Jewish law.

To uproot or chop down any tree, even in a private garden, you need the permission of the local municipality. Trees are taken very seriously over here. Tree planting is an ancient Jewish tradition and Israel is one of the few countries that entered the 21st century with an increase in the number of trees because of massive afforestation efforts.

So they don’t take kindly to people destroying trees.

But, even more important, Jewish law doesn’t allow the total uprooting of a fruit-bearing tree. We can trim as far as we like, but not totally uproot the fig tree. We have to leave it with the option of growing again every year, which it does.

So our Biblical garden, which was planted with such love and high aspirations, but with not enough local horticultural knowledge, will continue to grow and be a source of annoyance and aggravation to us and our neighbours.

I guess we should have stopped reading the Bible after Genesis and just planted an apple tree in our Garden of Eden. Apple trees are something that most Brits know how to deal with.

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4 Responses to “A Biblical Garden in the Promised Land”

  1. Ann, this is one of the most delightful essays I have read. Blind faith and humor….that sure sums it up!

  2. Interesting to hear from someone living in Jerusalem. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Mary Ann says:

    Without thinking much, I planted a fig tree last fall. Now you have me thinking! Enjoyed reading your essay. Thank you.

  4. Ccvali says:

    LOL. The sad part is that it’s true! I rembeemr that year. I just don’t rembeemr which year it was exactly and why it happened.And for the record, our tree is not up either. Only going up next weekend because we don’t have J the weekend after that or I’d wait until then. Too much work to keep kids from taking off ornaments!

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