“The garden was installed with a predetermined plan in mind, tailored to the area and the general natural landscape. On entering the garden, there is a lush carpet of green grass shaped like a pretty hill. Groups of natal plum shrubs are planted in its corners, pruned into the dome-like shape of the grassy hill. Beyond it, another grassy area, straight and angular, containing three flower beds, one of them with beautiful rose bushes, prominent in their abundance of flowers. The rest of the flower beds contain seasonal flowers. In the eastern border of the land there are cattail plants adorning a decorative pond hidden in rich multihued vegetation. A clear brook erupts from a split rock and trickles in a lively stream and pleasant gurgle into winding rock channels. The stream is swallowed and resurfaces between the rocks, and eventually falls into the quarried pond. The two shores of the pond are connected by a decorative stone bridge. The garden contains a cactus area that is built with local stones for complete harmony with the place.”
Description by landscape architect Moshe Kvashni, from the Ramat Gan Municipality’s 1937 Council Report
While not having been privileged to have met Landscape Arch. Moshe Kvashni personally, we were exposed to his creative work and his 1937’s descriptions during our work renovating the Park. Kvashni’s descriptions refer to the experience visitors have the moment they see the park. He describes the grass, the plants, trees and water, making it almost possible to feel the serene effect of the garden.
The Shaul Park is one of the summit gardens designated by architect Richard Kauffmann in his master plan for the city of Ramat Gan in 1922. Kauffmann wanted the aeolian hills above the flat lands to be the green lungs of the city. The park was designed in the late 1930s, on a hill then called Jebel al-Haramiya, by city engineer Rafael Megiddo and landscape architect Moshe Kvashni. The garden, which sprawled across 25 dunams (25000 square meters), was inaugurated in 1937 and named Presidents’ Park in honor of the presidents of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Its name was changed after the death of poet Shaul Tchernachovsky in 1943 to the Shaul Park – Gan Shaul.
The worldview guiding Moshe Kvashni in planning the gardens of Ramat Gan was viewing the garden in its entirety as a work of art comprised of shapes, shades, and sounds. The plan was based on a few central principles that repeat themselves with differing intensity in every garden, according to the terrain, location and topography of the land. A leading principle in designing the city’s gardens was sustainable design via “minimal days of work for managing the garden and maintaining it, while using water diligently.”(Ibid.).
The planning trend that developed in Israel in the 1940’s, inspired by the English landscape garden, allowed a freedom of design of a variety of bodies of water shaped like lakes, streams, waterfalls, ponds or fountains. These were used to create landmarks in the city’s gardens.
The 1937 Municipality report comprises a magnificent description of the structure of the historical garden, its pond, and the spirit of the garden, which stemmed from the ensemble of its components:
“Beyond the cactus area, various flowers are planted on the slope, where again there is a carpet of grass with beds of white flowers. From this corner there are several paths that lead into a shady pine grove. On the western border of the garden is an area of decorative shrubs – a diverse collection of various bushes that flower and bloom alternately throughout the seasons and are exceptional in their various colors and scents. Near this corner, hidden in the shadow of trees is a modest pond made of stone, and a fountain spraying sparkling water jets upward. Its green waters bloom with various aquatic plants, ferns, papyri and water lilies. In the pool there is a school of wandering goldfish, swimming around and making love. At dawn and dusk, flocks of joyful birds take dips it the cool, refreshing water with bright gladness.”
The main question raised while considering the various design alternatives we presented in the beginning was, how were we going to intervene in the garden, what to preserve and what to release. The park underwent many changes since its beginnings. The original playgrounds disappeared. The pond changed its face several times until it finally disappeared, to be replaced with a new playground area. The size shrunk, and on its borders a municipal reservoir was constructed. The vegetation underwent many changes over the years. A petting zoo was eventually established at the foot of the garden, which later resulted in the popular name of the “Monkey Park,” generating many delightful memories for the children of Ramat Gan and the surrounding area. This zoo is also gone now, and apart from the base of a dovecote, nothing of it remains. Moreover, the various pavements and inclines that existed then do not comply with today’s accessibility regulations.
With the help of the documentation file and walk-throughs of the area, we mapped all the components remaining from the historical garden: trees, paths, stone walls, clusters of old plants, succulents, pavements, and stairs. We examined historical photographs, in which we found several interesting details that did not survive the test of time – wooden railings, wooden gazebos adorned with climbing plants, little stone bridges and the decorative pond surrounded by rocks and aquatic plants.
The various descriptions of the garden as a place of wandering and discovery of secret nooks served as a core principle in our work with a major, important preservation value. The same feeling of walking along the paths, the feelings of discovery, the surprise revealing itself when first looking at the pond, the gurgling streaming cascade of water, and the serene feeling the garden instills – all of these sensations and experiences, alongside several physical components we chose to preserve, were at the heart of our renewal design for the park.
The first of the three stages for the park renovation is open to the public. it includes the upper southwest corner of the hill. The area extending from the foot of the water tower includes the historical entrance, lawns, pond, stone bridge, and the preservation of the succulents and all of the trees.
The second stage, which will soon be implemented, includes the planning of various playground facilities: An area for older children, an area for toddlers, outdoor exercise machines, a swing area, and a slope for slides atop the roof of the reservoir, an area that remains bare since trees cannot be planted over it.
The third stage will include the eastern and northern slopes of the garden – an extensive zone reserved for a natural green lung in the heart of the city.
Now, while the first stage is completed, you can already see the streambed and the fishpond we planned in the spot where the historical decorative pond once stood. We reconstructed a small, rounded bridge that stretches above the stream, which evokes the stone bridge from the historical photographs, on which residents often enjoyed having their pictures taken. Soft hilly lawns surround the garden from all directions. Several of the succulents were preserved in their original location, and those that did not were transplanted and preserved for the construction period in an area designated by the contractor. These will soon be planted throughout the garden.
The stone walls and pavements were built according to the original details. In the details of the railings and gazebos, we wished to evoke the wooden planks we saw in the historical photographs while integrating them with steel details, in compliance with safety regulations. We emphasized the locations with extended views of the landscape and created a scenic viewpoint in the shade of a carob tree that overlooks a group of eucalyptus trees. To emphasize a natural experience, we built stairs and platforms on inclines to avoid adding railings as much as possible and to open up the view to the garden and city.
Additional trees were planted in the park – some continuing Kvashni’s original planting line, and others are new. We planned the planting of stone pines, in addition to the original pines, and fruit trees such as carob and fig, among other shade trees. Along the pond we planted a weeping willow, and in it, aquatic plants for purifying the water. We also planted a variety of flowering plants similar to those in the historical descriptions, as well as various herbs.
“… the essence of planning a garden is making it useful and inviting; it should radiate a sense of comfort and serenity in those who pass through or sit in it. The success of garden planning is determined according to the impression on its visitor; if they are impressed by the sight of the garden and feel joy, festivity, excitement or calmness. That is – they must not only see pretty images, but also must feel certain emotions like the changing images of nature; sunrise, sunset, storm, and more.” (From: Kvashni, Moshe, “
How did I design 50 gardens? Ramat Gan Chronicle 97, Jan 1959, sec. 1358, p.11)
We hope the new layer we added to the Shaul Park, in the spirit of the historical garden, and the preservation of some of its early components, will continue to provide visitors with the experiences and sensations described by Moshe Kvashni in his initial design. The site is open to visitors, with the aspiration and hope of it returning to be a central, busy and bustling park in Ramat Gan.
Lanscape Architecture: BO Landscape Architects Beeri Ben Shalom and Orna Ben Zioni
Client: Ramat Gan municipality
Project location: Ramat Gan, Israel
Completion Year: 2023
Gross Built: Phase 8000 square meters
Supervising architect: Landscape Arch. Idit Israel. Planning team: Landscape Arch. Shahaf Zakai, Arch. Danny Guinness
Photo credits: Yoav Peled
Video credits: Yoav Peled
Construction: Nessi Levi, EBN Construction Management
Construction contractor: Eran Livni Ltd.
Special thanks to Landscape Arch. Sagit Koren, Preservation Arch. Michel Weston Laor, and Preservation Eng. Yardena Etgar for their mentoring and professional support throughout the entire process.