The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens are Israel’s oldest and largest botanical gardens. Originally founded in 1926 in the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, the Gardens were relocated to their current location in the 1950s, and significantly expanded in the 1980s and 90s.
Today, the Gardens cover an area of more than 120,000 square meters, representing the flora of the world’s various geographic regions. The Gardens, located in the heart of Jerusalem, serve as a center for education, research, recreation, and co-existence.
The Gardens’ bonsai collection was established in 2002, when the founding fathers of Israeli bonsai, Haim Shir and Refael Shemi donated their personal collections to the Gardens. In order to support and promote the art of bonsai in Israel, the Gardens greatly increased their bonsai-related activities in 2009, under a formal Bonsai Department.
The Bonsai Department’s activities can be divided into three main areas: the bonsai collection; the bonsai school and studio; and the annual JBG Bonsai Award and conference.
As a bonsai professional, the Gardens’ bonsai collection presented a unique challenge. Originally, the trees were very much ‘old school’ bonsai with a clear emphasis on horticulture (take a tree, grow it in a pot, call it bonsai) as opposed to sculpture. In addition, the collection was also in very poor condition. Re-building the collection as a modern, sculptural bonsai collection is a really fun challenge, requiring a constant balance of both horticultural fundamentals (to rebuild health) and creative, out-of-the-box design (to create bonsai out of sticks in pots). All, while staying respectful to the trees’ history as the cornerstones of Israeli bonsai. Today, after four years that I’ve been working with the collection, I’m happy to say that it’s starting to be one of the better and more interesting public collections I know.
The Gardens’ bonsai school and studio are Israeli’s largest and most dynamic bonsai curriculum, providing knowledge and skills for both newcomers to the art, and those seeking to improve their skills. Since launching in 2010, the program has taught dozens of graduates, many of whom are still practicing bonsai today.
Finally, one of the Bonsai Department’s most important activities, is the annual JBG Bonsai Award and Conference, which was established in 2011 as Israel’s national exhibition. The event promotes excellence among Israel’s bonsai community, provides them a unique opportunity to showcase their work to the general public, and establishes ties between the local and international bonsai communities through our visiting headliners and judges.
It is hard to sum up all the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ bonsai activities in so few words. But all in all, the Gardens today are one of the main forces driving Israeli bonsai forward, and provide a friendly, neutral place for all of Israel’s diverse bonsai groups to meet and collaborate. As our various initiatives mature, I am certain that Jerusalem will be a center of excellence and innovation not only locally, but for the global bonsai community as well.