Gardening in Israel is different this year. This is the year of shmitta, the seventh year of a cycle, in which the land of Israel is supposed to lie fallow.
When I arrived at my cousin’s house in the Galil, I noticed that some of the plants were similar to those in my own garden: snapdragons, dianthus and white alyssum. The tops of the plants, however, were browned. In my own garden, I just reach down and pluck off the top browns of the plants. This is called deadheading, and it helps to rejuvenate the plant so new flowers will grow. In the shmitta year, however, religious Jews in Israel do not do deadheading. There are few tasks that they are allowed to perform in their gardens; mostly just watering the plants is allowed. They are not even allowed to apply mulch to the sides of the plants; this must be done in the year before shmitta.
I wondered aloud to my cousin if gardeners suddenly do a lot of gardening the week after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, when shmitta is over and the new year begins. She reminded me that only religious Jews in Israel keep shmitta, so many of the gardens are kept up, despite the laws. She then told me about a friend who lived in a mixed neighborhood in Jerusalem whose neighbors got irritated with him because he was not tending his garden. He then put up a sign saying: “Shmitta Observed Here”, so it would be obvious that his garden was not in that state due to lazy neglect.