Diversifying Gardens with Unique Flora: Scientific Conference at Gilat Nursery

Monday, June 02, 2014

Besides trees and shrubs for forests, Gilat Nursery also grows different kind of plants.

When people see the parks, gardens and forests KKL-JNF has developed all over Israel, they don't always realize how much professional scientific research goes into learning about the characteristics of each and every species of tree and shrub. On Thursday, May 29, researchers, landscape architects, gardeners and other professionals attended a conference entitled "Diversifying Gardens with Unique Flora" that was held at KKL-JNF's Gilat Tree and Plant Nursery in the Western Negev.

R-L: Aviv Eisenband, Sima Kagan, Liora Haninovitch, Gil Raviv, Dr. Michael Avishay. Photo: Tania Susskind

The 50-acre Gilat Nursery was the ideal site for the conference, as it serves as a testing ground for trees and shrubs from all over the world in order to determine which species are suitable for growing in Israel. Besides trees and shrubs for forests, Gilat Nursery also grows plants for the parks and gardens of local schools, towns and villages, and army bases.

The day, which was co-sponsored with the Israel Ministry of Agriculture, began with a visit to the Kibbutz Nir Oz botanical gardens. After registration, the group proceeded to the David Nahamias KKL-JNF Center at the Gilat Nursery, where they heard a number of lectures on the subject, along with a lively panel discussion with the avid participation of the audience. According to Avigail Lerner, who moderated the discussion, "gardeners and landscape architects are always looking for special plants with ornamental flowers or leaves to provide shade, aesthetical enjoyment, land cover and more. They want plants that don't need a lot of irrigation or rich land, and are resilient to high radiation and strong winds."

Touring in Gilat Nursery. Photo: Tania Susskind

The first lecture, which focused on the topic of native and foreign species of plants in Israeli gardens, was presented by Professor Tal Alon Moses of the Landscape Architecture Department at the Techinon in Haifa. Throughout the country, local species mentioned in the Bible thrive next to plants from all over the world that were acclimated in Israel over time. The integration of these various plants in local gardens is the result of complex processes of systematic planning alongside private and often chance initiatives by gardeners. Two trends can be identified – basing Israel gardens on biblical and local flora, as opposed to an effort to green the country by importing evergreen, broadleaf trees that also provide shade. In recent years, sustainability and environmental considerations have also played a greater and greater role in determining what plants to grow where and when.

Continuing this line of thinking, Dr. Ariela Gottlieb of the Dead Sea and Arava Scientific Center said that species that were once thought useful and valuable are often discovered to be invasive and dangerous to local biodiversity. "Throughout history," Dr. Gottlieb noted, "people have moved plants from place to place and attempted to grow them for food, beauty, rituals, as spices and more." Acclimating plants has many advantages, but it must be done in an intelligent and careful manner in order to prevent damage to people and to local ecosystems. In 2013, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and other organizations published a list of 142 undesirable plant species, out of a total of more than 5,500 species that have been identified in Israel. Gilat Nursery director Pablo Chercasky noted that although there are invasive plants, their detrimental characteristics can often be averted by developing strains without seeds or other methods that enable gardeners to use them without endangering their surroundings.

Photo: Tania Susskind

The conference continued with a panel discussion between Aviv Eisenband, Director of the KKL-JNF Seeds and Nurseries Section; Gil Raviv of Kibbutz Revivim; Sima Kagan of the Agricultural Research Authority; David Eran, a landscape architect; and Liora Haninovitch, an agronomist. Each of the panel participants presented their specific needs and shared their rich experience with their colleagues. KKL-JNF's Aviv Eisenband noted the close cooperation between Sima Kagan and KKL-JNF. "In fact," Aviv noted, "many of the trees and shrubs that are being grown today at the Gilat Nursery were brought here by Sima from her journeys across the globe."

The day concluded with a tour of the nursery led by Pablo and Sima, which provided the professionals with an opportunity to get a firsthand look at how the seedlings they know so well are nurtured and grown. As Pablo said, "thanks to the fact that research and development is such a high priority at KKL-JNF, we can accomplish things at Gilat nursery that no private nursery could afford to invest in. That's what we've been doing since I came here in 1990, and that's what we want to continue doing in the future."