Nature of Israel
If you’re anything like me and are spending much of your time flitting between social media and Times of Israel news reports about the war, you could probably do with getting out and about for some rest and respite. There’s no better place than Ramat Hanadiv for a dose of fresh air and balm to the soul.
As I write this essay, I’m sitting in the wonderful outdoor Mata’im cafe-restaurant at Ramat Hanadiv, reflecting on several recent visits. There’s an indoor section too for when the weather isn’t too kind, but to sit outside, close to the nature and looking at the olive grove, and beyond that into the nature park, is a truly peaceful experience.
Ramat Hanadiv, on the edge of Zichron Yaakov, is one of the major tourist attractions of Israel, with more than 700,000 visitors each year. The visitors enjoy walking round the beautiful gardens with well-tended trees and flowers, but many don’t realise that the gardens are only the half the story. The other half of the attraction is the nature park, which hosts flowers, trees, birds, insects and animals in their natural environment.
Miriam and I were fortunate and honoured to be given a guided tour of the gardens and the nature park by Gali Cohen the Head of Visitors and Marketing at Ramat Hanadiv and Dr Tzach Glasser the Nature Park Manager – we’re very grateful to them both for their time and help in explaining to us the work of Ramat Hanadiv.
Ramat Hanadiv was established in the 1950’s to be the final resting home of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and his wife (who was also his cousin) Adelheid von Rothschild. Baron Edmond was a great philanthropist who financed many major projects in the early reestablishment of Israel as a national home for the Jewish People. For his great philanthropy he was accorded the special title of “HaNadiv HaYadu’a”, (Hebrew for “The Famous Benefactor”). But Ramat Hanadiv was to be much more than just a personal Rothschild mausoleum. It has become a magnificent garden, a wonderous nature reserve and centre of scientific research for the benefit of the people of Israel, the whole world, and for the flora and fauna of Israel.
Ramat Hanadiv – The Gardens
Just before entering the gardens through the magnificent wrought iron gates, I always stop to look at the lily pond, one of my favourite places at Ramat Hanadiv. As well as being the home of water lilies and flag lilies, frogs are frequently to be seen and heard. If you’re quiet enough and don’t frighten them, you can spend quite some time in their presence. And during spring, their mating season, you may well see their vocal sacs (bubbles on the side of their faces) as they expand to accompany, and more importantly to amplify, the croak.
On entering the gardens you’ll be greeted by the welcoming gatekeepers who remind you not to stray from the designated trails. You can then wander through the various sections, along winding and circular paths that give a feeling of privacy, as well as making the garden seem much more extensive than it actually is.
The cascade garden – featuring the unusual dragon trees from the Canary Islands. A stream runs down from the stone at the top, which is carved with a map of Israel listing the 44 settlements in Israel that the Baron supported, including Zichron Yaakov and Rosh Pinah.
The rose garden – with a whole palette of colourful and fragrant blooms, including the hybrid tea variety Benjamin de Rothschild. There are fountains and a sun dial on a sculpture of a tubby woman.
The fragrance garden – not just for the benefit of the visually impaired, but with helpful braille signs for those who need them.
The palm garden – with its impressive collection of a wide variety of contrasting heights and forms, in which many birds nest, and underneath them a vivid display of bird-of-paradise flowers. Everywhere you look here, there is a surprising shape to arrest the eye.
In addition, the garden contains a multitude of flowers and trees from all over the world – one of my favourites being the ‘bent’ palm tree, which stands as a curiosity and an invitation, across the lawn from the main entrance.
Ramat Hanadiv – The Nature Park
You would think, that controlling a nature reserve – a wild landscape – entailed leaving it to its own devices to continue as it has done for countless preceding centuries. After all, it’s just native scrubland, isn’t it? Yet we discovered through the guidance of Tzach and Gali just how wrong an assumption this is. They have, between them, clocked up over three decades of devoted work at this gem of a site, amassing not only a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise, but also the sensitivity to the natural environment necessary for achieving long-term projects that will protect this idyllic place for generations to come.
The contrast between the immaculate and beautifully orchestrated gardens, and the 4,500 dunams (4½ square km) of the surrounding wild nature park, couldn’t be starker, yet both require just as much care and constant supervision. And that’s not to mention the vulture breeding program, and the wonderful adventure playground and excellent restaurant situated in the heart of this delightful location. There is certainly something for everyone here.
We were surprised to see herds of sheep and goats intermingling. What were they doing there? Tzach explained that they perform a valuable fire-fighting service, by cropping the bushes and grassy areas, providing (albeit unwittingly) firebreaks to prevent recurrences of the devastating damage that sometimes occurred in Ramat Hanadiv’s earlier history. And why both sheep and goats? Well, apparently, they munch on different plants, so that between the two groups, they devour sufficient vegetation to keep otherwise spreading fires at bay. And as if that weren’t enough, they provide fleeces and milk into the bargain – definitely win-win by all accounts!
The work of The Nature Park goes far beyond just providing a natural habitat for flora and fauna. There are several ongoing projects to help conserve endangered species or rehabilitate those in need. These include vulture breeding, kestrel and gazelle conservation and rehabilitating oak and olive trees.
Vulture Breeding – The Eurasian vulture (Gyps fulvus) known as the Griffon vulture is a large bird of prey with a wingspan of more than 2½ metres. Not so long ago, there were numerous Griffon vultures in Israel, but in recent times they have become scarce. Various programs to help them re-establish themselves in Israel are in place, including at Gamla in the Golan. At Ramat Hanadiv, a few pairs of these vultures have been imported from Europe – they’re not able to survive in the wild, because of injuries they sustained, but they can be used to breed birds that can be released into the wild. Tzach explained that they only produce one egg a year, but if they remove that egg (and incubate it artificially), the vulture will lay another to substitute for the lost egg. In that way they can double the number of chicks born in a year.
Kestrel Conservation – The lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a small falcon that passes through Israel. They arrive in February, breed, and move on in the summer. Although there is little concern for the world population of these kestrels, in Israel there are fewer than there were some years ago. Injured chicks are brought to Ramat Hanadiv, nurtured and, when strong enough, are released.
Gazelle Conservation – The Israeli Gazelle also known as the Mountain Gazelle (Gazella gazella) is an endangered species. At Gazelle Valley in Jerusalem, gazelles are bred and released to the wild in the Golan and also at Ramat Hanadiv. These gazelles, together with others already in the park, then have to fend for themselves. Some of them become prey for Golden Jackals, whose numbers are rising.
Oak Tree Rehabilitation – In one of the fields in the park there are a number of oak trees that were uprooted in Bet Shemesh to make space for residential building projects. These trees have been replanted in Ramat Hanadiv and are flourishing along with longer-established trees.
Olive Trees – Ramat Hanadiv accommodates research groves of different sub-species of olives from around the Mediterranean, to establish which respond best to local conditions, and to provide a data base and seedbank for the future.
Ramat Hanadiv – Archaeological Sites
Within the park there are part-reconstructed archaeological sites including Horvat Aqav that contains the remains of a villa, from the Second Temple times. You can still see the mikveh (ritual bath), wine press, olive press and the villa itself. It occupies an open elevated position with fine views of the sea right down past Caesaria. At the other end of the nature park, are the remains of stone-built waterways and pools.
Ramat Waymarked Walks
There are all sorts of wonderful hiking trails to experience – take at look at this map for more details – Trail Map (ramat-hanadiv.org.il)
Ramat Hanadiv is a ‘must visit’ place for all; Israelis and foreign tourists alike. Many, many hours of happy relaxing experiences await you – and best of all it is all free of charge, bar a modest car park charge, meaning return trips for further endless enjoyment.
Take a look at this slide show with music composed specially by Miriam Alper.