Succulents in Tel Aviv. All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Moti Milrod

Succulents Are Taking Root in Tel Aviv's Urban Jungle

These fleshy, hardy plants are the latest craze in fashion, social media and interior design.

The craze began over a century ago, in Victorian England. Between 1850 until the 1890s many locals contracted the fern craze. No, it was not a scary and incurable disease but rather a peculiar trend that made everyone admire anything reminiscent of the fern motif. The trend, which began with admiration for the plant, eventually turned into a consumer phenomenon. Ferns appeared on ceramics, glass, metal, textile, print, statues, monuments and even gravestones.

Over a century later, we would like to believe wholeheartedly that we have less of a herd mentality than our ancestors. But today what has changed is only the type of plants that have replaced the once celebrated fern. Those are shade plants and cacti, with the unofficial “poster plant” being succulents (all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti).

One main trait characterizes the succulent is its ability to retain water. These picturesque plants with fleshy leaves are capable of surviving a host of harsh conditions.

Succulents are all the buzz in the world of fashion and event planning. They are also huge on social networks, and thus have become the aesthetic face of the era. Hundreds of blogs, Instagram and Pinterest accounts and Etsy sites offer ideas, pictures, content and mainly products in the image of cacti.

On the blog and Instagram page of New Yorker Aaron Apsley, there is a magical dissonant meeting between urban landscape drawings and a plethora of amazing illustrations in watercolor of succulents and their ilk . The Instragram page of the Succulent Love website is a living gallery of everything related to succulents . Meanwhile, the beautiful blog of Urban Jungle Bloggers ignites an entire community of hundreds of bloggers who are totally immersed in the field.

The popularity of succulents is evident in every corner of Tel Aviv, from the urban nursery We Love Plants, which offers a collection of rare plants and giant cacti — plants with an urban character that are easy to take care of and are suitable to a fast-paced, modern environment — to the Edition style shop in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood, which offers plants that come direct from the growers in the Negev and have been placed in vases of a Dutch design company.

Shoshan Dagan, an agronomist and landscape engineer, and Margo Haimov, a Dutch-trained floral designer, opened the unusual flower shop Shoshan’s in between auto repair garages and carpentry shops (Shoshan now manages it alone). It is an urban jungle in and of itself, full of plants and succulents. “I really have felt increasing demand in the past year for succulents and other solutions for urban greenery,” says Shoshan, who is put off by the word “trend.” “If customers previously received them with hesitation and suspicion, today it is an inextricable part of the products that customers buy regularly.”

Tomer Appelbaum

In the wake of the growing popularity of succulents, workshops on urban gardening take place once every few weeks with limited participation. There, participants learn to make kokedama (Japanese moss) balls, which are ball-shaped, hanging plants that look like trees suspended from the ceiling, and to prepare terraria, special plant arrangements and flowers.

The trend extends to plant parties. The Diego San restaurant in Tel Aviv, a magnet for local hipsters, celebrated the launching of a beautiful hothouse opened in its back courtyard. At the event, they sold the choicest delights of plant nurseries in Tel Aviv, with an emphasis on houseplants, cacti, succulents and terraria. Eilon Bergman, one of the owners of Diego San and a graphic designer and enthusiastic plant hobbyist, ran the show.

Yoav Shafranek, a social activist and educator, and Robert Unger, an architect and designer, who are both members of the Onya Collective, one of the more prominent collectives dealing in urban nature, concur that there is an attempt here to introduce nature into homes. With cities crowded and apartments shrinking, the only available space left for plants are on shelves and walls, they say.

The collective, founded in 2014, was meant to quench the thirst for green outside the borders of the home, and to nurture greener values in places in which mainly soot is the norm. That trend is best reflected abroad in New York’s High Line, the dilapidated elevated subway tracks that were restored in 2012 and turned into a wild and green garden in the middle of a tumultuous metropolis — or in the wall of living greenery that was launched in the Moma Museum in San Francisco in May.

Tomer Appelbaum

The Israeli collective currently numbers 11 members, among them designers, architects and social activists, and they are responsible among other things for the “Next Train” project – an exhibition of urban agriculture and nature in the depths of the old central bus station.

Shafranek and Unger say they are looking for ways to integrate nature in the city into their work fields, respectively, design and community. They say this can be expressed through vertical agriculture (growing plants vertically in areas where space is limited), urban guerilla acts like the Hamaniyada sunflower fest for sowing sunflower seeds in public gardens, or projects with the participation of municipalities for sustainable urban design.

“My inspiration comes from the varied and multidisciplinary work of all the members of the collective,” says Shafranek. “It is a concoction of food for thought and exciting fertilizer for ideas.”

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