Thursday, June 14, 2007

PA Garden offers trip back to Biblical times

Garden offers trip back to Biblical times

New Castle News

IF YOU’RE GOING ... Biblical Botanical Garden The Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays until Sept. 15 as well as 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays in June, July and August. Admission is free and the area is handicapped accessible. Guided tours are available for groups of eight or more. Tours of the garden and/or temple can be arranged by calling (412) 621-6566. The temple is at 4905 Fifth Ave., across from WQED-TV and between the campuses of Carnegie-Mellon and Pitt.


A Biblical garden in Pittsburgh’s Oakland area lies hidden from traffic behind wrought-iron fencing and shrubbery. It occupies a corner of the Rodef Shalom grounds at Fifth and Morewood avenues, and passing through its entry lops off about 2,000 years. Flowers, herbs, grains, vines, shrubs and trees from ancient Israel, Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia line a concrete, oval walkway that leads to water creations representing the Sea of Galilee, the river Jordan and the Dead Sea. One hardly notices that the area covers barely one-third of an acre. “This is the gem of our temple,” said Violet Marcus, one of the garden’s hostesses. Each year, the plantings carry out a theme. For 2007, the focus is on “Aches and Pains in Ancient Times: Medicinal Plants from the Bible to Ancient Greece.” Visitors receive a list of the plants they will see that were used as medicines and for which ailments. For example, oil from lettuce seeds was said to help earache; the pod or seed of the carob plant curbed diarrhea while fig was offered for constipation. The leaves of the succulent purslane eased blisters, oil from safflower seeds soothed stings and the seeds and leaves of dill was a headache remedy. A pain reliever then as now is the milky juice of the poppy. There are 20 medicinal plants in the garden marked with numbers corresponding to those on the list for ease in finding and recognizing them. Near the entry are ancient agricultural tools: rakes, pitchforks and scythes. Leeks, lettuce, coriander, lentils, garlic, chamomile and other plants are protected from rabbits with chicken wire. Grape vines are trained to climb up an arch-shaped trellis over the walkway; an angular trellis supports climbing roses. One of the most impressive is the papyrus plant with fibrous stems and feathery bronze heads. The stems are cut lengthwise in thin slices, laid side by side and pressed together and dried to make paper. All plants, trees and shrubs are marked by name and some plantings are accompanied by quotations from the Bible. For ivy: “They were compelled to walk in procession in honor of Dionysus wearing wreathes of ivy.” (Maccabees 6:7) Date palms — “The righteous flourish like the palm tree,” (Psalms 92:13) — are planted in sand to replicate a desert environment. Gabrielle Dinman, one of the garden’s docents, noted the grain crops — millet, chickpea, flax, wheat and barley — are in a different location from where they were last year. “Last year, they just looked sad. The Bible says you should rotate crops.” Irene Jacob, wife of the rabbi emeritus, Walter Jacob, began building the garden 21 years ago. She said they transplant crops such as the wheat, millet and barley that require soil-rich nutrients. The Jacobs tend the garden, coming at 6 a.m. daily in spring and fall when most of the work needs to be done. They plant annuals, weed, prune and mulch the beds. After the garden closes Sept. 15, they and volunteers pot the tropical plants that cannot withstand cold temperatures and transport them to a greenhouse on the grounds of West View Cemetery. They reverse the process in late May before the annual June 1 opening. “The Jacobs have so much love for the garden, you can feel it here,” Marcus said. “It’s like a chapel.”



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