A Patio In An Alleyway: A Luscious Urban Garden In Tel Aviv

– Posted in: Garden Design

In thinking about Nan’s design workshop this month, I was ready to discuss the way I went about configuring my own flagstone terrace. But as I was perusing some photos that I took last month while visiting Israel, I came upon a few pictures that I had taken of a funky garden smack in the center of the old section of Tel Aviv.

 It was a Friday afternoon. My father, daughter and I had just left an arts and crafts open market. We were working our way out of the intensity of the crowds when my father (who happens not to be a gardener) pointed across the street and exclaimed ‘Would you look at that?’ And lo and behold, there it was! An exuberant mass of green enclosed behind a wrought iron gate.

I, along with my daughter, ran across the street, hoping to get a better glimpse of this urban jewel. As luck would have it, we were peering in beyond the locked gate when an elderly gentleman, saddled down with bags of groceries in both hands, came up behind us and said ‘Excuse me’. Well, I understood enough Hebrew to know that he was inviting my daughter, Erika, and me in to visit his garden.

As I walked through the gates, I felt as if I had stumbled into the world of Alice in Wonderland. Within a few seconds, this well seasoned gardener had begun a non-stop conversation with my daughter, explaining that he had lived in this apartment (in a very old, somewhat derelict building) for several years. He said that over the years, several photographers had come to take photos of his much beloved garden, letting us know that he was quite proud of his creation.

Now you need to understand why this garden so enchanted me. When I tell you that the width of the garden was narrow, much like a pass through on a side of a house, it was! There are multiple alleyways like this in Tel Aviv, especially in the more run down, gritty sections of town. But to see what in most cases would be a cracked concrete walkway transformed into a paradise overflowing with plants of all types, encased by walls, grottos and funky pots was a glorious experience.

My new gardening friend took me inch by inch through his garden, explaining each plant to me:  its origins and when he planted it. My daughter had to translate the entire conversation because I didn’t understand one word of what he was saying. And of course, I kept on interrupting her so that I could transmit my own set of questions through her back to him.  I was grabbed by the wonderful mosaic/grottoed wall on the left hand side: it had a bit of a Moorish influence. I never found out if he was responsible for the design and construction of it. The hibiscus and palms were soaking up the sunlight filtering through the top of the building. I think what most amazed me though was the fact that almost the entire garden was done up in pots: all types, sizes and shapes. Yet, with all of the limitations surrounding him, this man had created a paradise.

So, imagine my surprise when we walked down towards the back of the garden to have a look at his fruit bushes growing (some with already ripened figs), we came upon a small patio. To say it was spectacular would be misleading. It wasn’t. But what so grabbed my heart was the fact that there was an outdoor seating area: so that whoever was sitting there would be able to take in the beauty of the garden that this aging gardener had spent years working on. They could gaze at the plants in bloom, the Moorish facade of the walls and breathe in the intoxicating scent of the flowers.

It is because of the miraculous nature of this garden with its tiny patio that I felt compelled to write about it. Do you remember the famous book A Tree Grows In Brooklyn? Well, how about An Oasis Flourishes In Tel Aviv as a way of applauding this seasoned, Israeli gardener? This garden can serve as a reminder to all of us that limitations can actually propel us into being more creative. And in the context of Nan’s Design Workshop this month,  we can also be midnful that if we have the desire and a bit of vision, we can create a patio practically anywhere!

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
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Lisa at Greenbow June 23, 2008, 8:56 pm

It is amazing what a group of plants flourishing can do to a unremarkable situation. Cheers to the old gardener.

Totally agree. He served as a wonderful inspiration for me….especially when my back is aching at the end of the day. If you have desire, you can do just about anything! Fran

Les June 23, 2008, 9:20 pm

Sometimes you stumble upon your best experiences. This was also another example of blooming where you are planted. Thank you for sharing!


Great way of describing this seasoned, ardent gardener. Thank you! Fran

Nancy Bond June 23, 2008, 11:35 pm

What a lovely report — what delights me in reading this is imagining this elderly gent planning and caring and nurturing this wonderful oasis. Which proves my point again that a garden is a garden is a garden, whether it be on an acre spread or a tiny alleyway in Tel Aviv. Nice!

Your point is well taken. I think so many people get caught up in the world of ‘wanting’ translated into ‘if only I had’ rather than taking advantage of the moment….regardless where you live…even an apartment can offer opportunities to do some type of gardening! Thanks for your great thoughts! Cheers! Fran

Sylvia June 24, 2008, 6:20 am

What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it with us. Makes me ashamed every time I complain about my garden!

Best wishes Sylvia

Join the crowd…..these spontaneous interludes usually can teach us some good lessons. Fran

Jan June 25, 2008, 1:39 pm

What a charming story. It never ceases to amaze me how a dedicated gardener can create a wonderful refuge under adverse conditions. This gardener is truly inspiring.

Always Growing

Ain’t that the truth? I think the best part of this interlude was meeting this bent over, fragile looking man….who if I had seen him walking on the street would never in a million years think he was a gardener. It was a good lesson for me. In chatting with him, he exuded vibrancy and a great sense of just ‘being’. Thanks for your comments. Fran

Michelle Derviss June 26, 2008, 3:01 pm

This is what I love about the human spirit.
The desire to forge ahead and create beauty despite the many challenges that face us and our surroundings.

Traveling around the world is the best eye opening education.
Many folks think it is a luxury, and the cost of travel can be beyond one’s financial means, but the value that one gains is tremendous.
Just think if our current president had the foresight to travel before taking office what a difference there might be in our world right now ( and for the future ).

Thanks for your pithy and wonderful thoughts. I couldn’t agree with you more on all counts. The human spirit certainly find a why to thrive…as Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist who was in a concentration camp reminds us. If there is a ‘why’, then an individual can discover ‘how’. And yes, traveling is the most fantastic education that we can give ourselves in our lifetimes. It shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury. And about our president, you said it all. Fran

Layanee June 27, 2008, 7:00 am

The best planning is no substitute for ‘seizing the moment’ of the unexpected! I am sure the old gent was thrilled to show someone the beauty he created. Bloom where you are planted!

Meenoo June 27, 2008, 1:15 pm

I loved this post. Whenever I travel in cities, I love looking at small urban gardens. Right now, in fact, I have created a garden in my carport in Tucson, because there is no place else to garden!

fsorin June 30, 2008, 5:09 pm

I love the fact that you’ve created a garden in your carport in Tucson….talk about creativity and ‘blooming’ whever you land. Kudos to you! Fran

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