Spring hasn't sprung yet, but that's of no concern to trees or their tree-hugging friends: They will be marking Tu Bishvat next week, on the date for which the minor holiday is named (the 15th of the month of Shevat, which falls on January 16 this year). Also known as Jewish Arbor Day and the "New Year" for the trees, Tu Bishvat goes back to the days of the Talmud; then, for the purpose of biblical tithes, it was chosen as the date to calculate the start of the agricultural cycle.
The modern-day holiday is traditionally celebrated by planting saplings and eating dried fruits, nuts and other bounty from the Holy Land – and in recent years it's become a time to reflect the themes of rebirth and renewal and to appreciate nature and the environment. For this column, it marks the perfect time to explore Israeli designers who draw attention to the beauty of trees and their fruit, or add a touch of nature to one's home.
One such designer, Gur Kimel, is something of a contemporary forager: He collects acorns, pinecones and other tree branches around the Jerusalem hills, Tel Aviv and Scandinavian villages – and then coats them in 24k gold or sterling silver to create one-of-a-kind pendants.
Kimel's works create a lovely contrast between the natural and the manmade: One necklace, for example, tops a silver-coated acorn with its natural shell, highlighting the different textures. Yet the standout pieces are the designer's nut necklaces: Gold- and silver-adorned almonds and pecans that can be worn alone or with part of the original wooden shell.
The almond pieces were partly inspired by a Scandinavian Christmas game in which an almond is hidden in a big bowl of rice pudding; it must be found before moving on to the evening's entertainment – and, like the kid who finds the afikoman on Passover, the lucky diner gets a prize. But Kimel has a soft spot for the pecans, which transport him back to his grandparents' moshav and a "fun field" from his childhood, where he collects the pecans used in his designs to this day.
Prices vary; available at Kimel's online shop
If you're a nature-lover but don’t quite have a green thumb, Israeli firm Greenbo has created a line of soft planters that makes it easy to embrace environmentalism – even indoors. The company is best known for its line of colorful, eco-friendly flower boxes and planters that can be seen perched across Israeli balconies and are sold at major international retailers in the United States, Europe and Australia (they also won the 2012 Red Dot design award for product design).
Greenbo's newest creations, the Fiorina pillow and planter case, also blend urban gardening and interior design: Just put a small plant or flower pot at the center of the cushion or case and place it anywhere you want – from your sofa to your swimming pool – to add a dash of color and life. What's genius about these designs is that it the fabric is water-resistant and dirt or stains can be easily wiped clean. In other words, you can embrace nature and almost avoid getting your hands dirty.
$19.99 for the pillow; $8.99 for the planter case; visit http://www.greenbo.co/ for stockists
Designers Naama Agassi and Max Cheprak also help urban environmentalists bring a touch of nature into their homes. The designing duo has created a line of wooden mouse pads and trivets from industrial scrap wood; they decorate the wood "tiles" using a traditional arts and crafts technique called marquetry – in which patterns are formed by inserting pieces of material (wood, shell or ivory) into a wood veneer.
Agassi and Cheprak feel that designers have a responsibility to the planet, or as they put it in a description on their online shop, "We believe the world does not need more garbage, so in order to make our donation to earth, we use biodegradable, sustainable materials." Their mouse pads feature funky designs like skylines, moustaches and inspirational sayings like "Be creative." We're partial to the serene landscape featuring four trees, which naturally is a perfect fit for Tu Bishvat.
Prices vary; available at Naama Agassi and Max Cheprak's online shop