San Diego Botanic Garden

A New Collaboration

One of the many perks of having a job in a botanic garden is the camaraderie that exists between public gardens around the world. I often think of how lucky I am compared to so many people who work in a corporate environment, where competition rather than collaboration is the standard operating procedure.

This collaboration stems from a common purpose—to conserve the increasingly threatened flora and heighten public awareness and concern over the disappearance of plants around the world. It is my belief that this common engagement is why working in a botanic garden is one of those “labor of love” professions. Whether we volunteer or have a paid position, much of the reward comes from the belief that we are accomplishing something important.

Recently, staff and volunteers at the San Diego Botanic Garden had the opportunity to meet colleagues from the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. This came about through one of our past board presidents, Jim Farley, who is now the President and CEO of The Leichtag Family Foundation. Jim had traveled to Israel and while visiting Jerusalem he was able to tour the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and meet its Executive Director, Oren Ben Yosef. When Jim discovered that Oren would be traveling to the US to visit other botanic gardens, he helped add SDBG to his itinerary.

Oren’s first visit was brief but enlightening. Through a power-point presentation on the Jerusalem Botanic Gardens, we learned that the two gardens have much in common. In addition to sharing a Mediterranean climate, both are similar in size and history: SDBG became self-supporting after being funded by the San Diego County and the JBG has become self-supporting after being funded by The Hebrew University.

Fortunately, Oren made a second visit this past March and was accompanied by Dr. Ori Fragman Sapir who is the Head Scientist for the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. Having more time in their itinerary, we were able to visit the botanical collection department at the San Diego Zoo with Michael Bostwick and spend a day at the Huntington Botanical Gardens hosted by Dr. Jim Folsom, Garden Director. In addition, Dave Ehrlinger, SDBG Director of Horticulture, and I took Oren and Ori out to the Anza Borrego Desert for their first experience in an American desert.

The opportunity for a plant enthusiast to see flora of interest in habitat for the first time is a special occasion. Clearly, Oren and Ori had great interest in the iconic plants of the Anza Borrego as they could not stop exclaiming in superlatives. They both speak perfect English so most of the time Dave and I were tuned in to how they felt about this desert experience. Occasionally some Hebrew, which neither Dave nor I understand, slipped in with “Wow!” interspersed (must be commonly understood around the world).

Their visit also provided the time for Ori to give a wonderful presentation to our staff and Benefactor members on the flora of the Eastern Mediterranean. His presentation has inspired a project at SDBG to establish a section in our Mediterranean Garden featuring plants from Israel and other areas of the Eastern Mediterranean. Plant material for this project will, in part, be available from the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.

We, in turn, have agreed to provide plant material for a JBG project that will feature plants of the North American deserts. The JBG also has a children’s garden in the planning stages so Oren and Ori were particularly interested in the design of our children’s gardens and seeing how they function.

In return for our hospitality, our guests from the JBG have invited us to visit Israel. We are excited to see their garden and look forward to an itinerary that includes some of the most interesting botanical areas of this small but floristically diverse country. Dave and I are sure to exclaim with some “wows!” as we have our first opportunity to visit areas such as the Negev desert.

The time spent with Oren and Ori has allowed a friendship to evolve that goes beyond our common interests. They both are very warm, friendly, likable individuals and the resulting social capital between us as individuals is the real basis for the relationship between our respective gardens.

We are still developing what a more formal relationship would entail but we have already agreed that, for starters, we would provide a reciprocal membership benefit of free admission to each Garden. So, it is with pleasure that I can announce to our members that you are now also a member of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens!

I do wish to express my thanks to Jim Farley and The Leichtag Family Foundation for igniting and helping to sustain the collaboration between the two institutions. Their support has already helped to enhance and enrich our shared “labor of love”—the conservation of the world’s increasingly threatened flora—reinforcing the fact that we are doing something important.

Julian Duval


Julian Duval