There used to be no office, study, or kitchen with a printed calendar hanging on the wall or perched on a desk (not to mention the raunchy calendars hung in greasy auto repair shops).
For a few years they stayed in place well past their sell-by date, so we could continue to enjoy the cute kittens, colorful flowers or reproductions of famous works of art, which were often chosen as the subject.
Then came the digital age and a calendar was something you could flip through on phones, computers and tablets. Unfortunately, it seemed that printed calendars had become obsolete, as had developing photos from camera film.
Not so, says Ilana Stein, creator of A Year in the Garden, a lovingly hand-drawn calendar that provides a detailed monthly guide to home gardening in Israel.
Ilana Stein with her hand-drawn garden calendar. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
Stein acknowledges how digital has taken over so many aspects of our lives, but says the popularity of her calendar, now in its seventh year, lies in people looking for a connection “to nature, or the cycle of life, or just to.” looking for what’s outside their window. ”
The calendar fulfills this wish, she explains, because what you read in a certain month is in season at that point in time.
Stein, a Bezalel Academy graduate in illustration and graphic design, points to the beauty of a Jewish calendar in which the months follow the natural cycle.
“Autumn officially begins on September 21st and this is our first month of the year in Israel. The Gregorian calendar begins in January and is in no way related to nature.”
The September page of “A Year in the Garden” 2022/23. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
Was the 2021/22 shmita (sabbatical year), in which Jewish law forbids all agricultural activity, a problem for the annual calendar?
Luckily, Stein told ISRAEL21c, it coincided with the pandemic, where people were much more at home and looking for a new hobby, so indoor home gardening was a good fit for the issue’s theme.
Gardening all year round
The topics covered in A Year in the Garden reflect just how broad the subject of gardening really is.
“Potted plants in the room, sprouts on your kitchen shelf, herbs in a window box, searching for wild plants in the fields are all part of gardening, I think,” says Stein, as we sit and eat sun-dried fig slivers under a pergola in the garden next to her office- and retail store in the quaint Ein Karem neighborhood of Jerusalem.
“A Year in the Garden,” a Jewish calendar for home gardeners. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
It takes three months to draw the myriad of content required, and Stein follows the rhythm of nature as much as the calendar does.
She starts painting and writing the text in spring to summer. Autumn is a time of rest and winter is a time of rooting (choose a topic and research).
The November page of “A Year in the Garden” 2022/23. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
Printed on eco-friendly paper using natural dyes, each page of A Year in the Garden features illustrations beautifully executed with watercolor and watercolor pencil in a folk art style reminiscent of the Moosewood Cookbook, which explored vegetarian cooking in revolutionized in the 1970s.
But that’s where the retro ends. Kale chips are a trending choice for November’s recipe, February’s is Celery Pesto with the added explanation of how to regrow a celery root, and April’s is a recipe for making vermouth with leftover wine, the one with sage , hyssop, lavender and myrtle is enriched.
At the end of the calendar is a useful chart of when to prepare and plant seedlings, including instructions for novice gardeners.
You are what you eat
She traces Stein’s love of nature to her Russian grandfather, who spent holidays in the Black Forest as a child.
But it wasn’t until she finished university and traveled to India with her then-boyfriend Davidi (now husband) to study Ayurvedic medicine that she became more aware of the holistic philosophy of “you are what you eat”.
Ilana and Davidi Stein. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
This newfound knowledge prompted the couple to start a vegetarian catering business upon returning to Israel in the early 2000s, followed by a move to Hubeza, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farming community in Kfar Bin Nun.
The couple then moved to Moshav Bar Giora and started growing vegetables, which they sold to 20 families every week.
“That’s when I started opening my eyes to searching for wild plants. It connected me to the seasons and the abundance of all seasons, which in turn led to canning and fermenting,” says Stein.
“The kitchen comes alive…when it’s fig season, you have an abundance of fruit and suddenly you’re making dried figs, fig liqueur, fig vinegar and whatever else you can think of.”
living off the land
Illustrations from “A Year in the Garden”. Photo courtesy of Ilana Stein
Seven years ago the family (now including their son Noga and daughter Root) moved into a 150 year old stone house with a large plot of land with old terraces in Ein Karem.
Their plan was again to live off the land and sell off the surplus, but there were difficulties they hadn’t foreseen.
A tractor did not fit through the driveway and a donkey was brought in to till the land. A bigger blow was the huge water bill the couple received that failed to budget for.
Stein realized they had to change direction. Her passion for illustrations and the couple’s love for cooking and gardening gave rise to the idea of creating a garden calendar based on the seasons.
Stein is just as excited, she says, to start over with each new calendar as she was at the beginning, and enjoys finding the underlying theme for each issue. This year (2022/23) it will be butterflies.
Do you sometimes run out of ideas?
“No,” says the curly-haired artist, writer, and gardener with a smile, “because nature is infinite and we can learn so much from and about her.”
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