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Jerusalem Water Gardens

The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Hebrew University
Jerusalem, Israel

by Michael Avishai
Click images to enlarge

Since the early days of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, the establishment of a garden dedicated to the cultivation and display of aquatics was one of the great dreams of all those associated with the garden. The chief reason was the contribution such an element would make to the public and educational appeal of the garden -- especially given the harsh semi-arid climatic conditions characterizing the city, in which water is always at a premium and expensive.   


Built on the watershed line between the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert and the Judean Mountains, Jerusalem enjoys some of the highest solar irradiation rates on earth, nine months of blue sky, and a cool rainy winter with intermittent spells of hot and cold (at times frosty and snowy!) weather. The very dry, relatively clean air makes water and its flow and sound, as a recreational feature, most attractive.

Thus it was only natural that, when in 1931, the first Hebrew University botanical garden of native plants was built on the top of Mount Scopus (overlooking the Judean Desert) -- a small pond with adjacent swampy beds was one of its highlights. Since those days much has changed, but this special charm still exists. Its form has changed but it still accommodates a collection of native aquatic and bog plants.

Due to the impossible access to that campus and that garden until 1967, a new garden was started in 1962 under the auspices of the University in West Jerusalem. Lack of funds and the vagaries of the times delayed the establishment of a new collection of water plants for many years. Only in 1978, a first modest pool of this kind was built as part of the Mediterranean section of the new garden. In 1981 this was followed by another small pool and in 1992-93 by a much more extensive and ambitious project in the center of the garden, next to the garden's Visitor Center and the adjacent Cafeteria.

Simons Island with Taxodium
and view to Cafeteria
Two parts comprise this focus of every visit to the garden: a 3,000 square meter (32,292 square foot) pool in the center of the European section and an artificial 240 meter (787 foot) long brook with a small spring, two waterfalls and two more small ponds. While the pool catches some of the water that flows from adjacent built-up areas, the brook is fed with water pumped from the pool in closed circuit, and is part of what is designed as the American water garden. During summer, water is added occasionally from the city mains, to compensate for water lost through massive evaporation.  


Patch with different swamp plants

< Bridge over summer dry water course
that diverts winter rain water to a pool during the rainy season

Michael at one of the ponds.


The pools in the Mediterranean Section are stocked with plants native to that type of environment. Among these, besides common well-known plants such Iris pseudacorus, Nuphar lutea, are also rare plants, including a white form of Nymphaea nouchali Burm.f. var. caerulea Savigny (GRIN taxonomy N. caerulea) at the left. These plants are grown by the gardens in line with their commitment to conservation, through cultivation of rare and threatened plants of known wild origin.

Plants in the central pool of the garden are of two types: plants grown from seed exchanged with other botanical gardens in Israel and abroad, and exotics purchased from water plant nurseries (such as Ofra Water Plants and Hazorea Aquatics) in Israel.

Notable among these are Nelumbo nucifera, left, cultivars thereof, and cultivars of Nymphaea. The colorful displays of these plants as well as the water fowl, black swans, soft turtles and occasionally resting migratory birds (grey egrets or white breasted cormorants) on their way south or back north, make the pool popular and exciting for the many children and adults that visit the gardens. To control and avoid establishment of breeding populations of mosquitoes, all ponds and pools are stocked with Gambusia affinis.  


In the American Water Garden, a series of different aquatic habitats is designed to reflect the change from the north to the south, from the Great Lakes to the bayous of the Gulf of Mexico. Conceived and approved by the garden's scientific council, this is only gradually taking shape. Of course this is not surprising as it is easier to construct a planting site than to grow the different types of plants from seed. In this respect it must be noted that many of the plants from northern latitudes require a period of cold chilling before they can be germinated as well as a special growth medium such as volcanic tufa.

The central pool, known as the Cohen Pool in honor of the sponsors, was designed by the garden's landscape architect, Mr. Shlomo Aaronson, in consultation with engineers and the late Philip Swindells.


The aquatics nursery

Euryale ferox in the nursery

Installation of Euryale ferox

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