Nature

Berkeley in bloom: Shadow play and winter silhouettes

This Magnolia x soulangeana intertwined with a Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' has a splendid view of Lake Merritt. All photos by Robert Trachtenberg.

By Robert Trachtenberg

When I was a young man (9th grade) falling in love with nature and in particular with trees, I was struck by a passage in The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins was walking through a forest and he observed: “Never before have I become so suddenly and so keenly aware of a tree’s skin, neither as a forester nor as a carpenter but in the delight of the living tree itself”. My love affair with trees has grown deeper every year.

Winter is the best time to select a specimen tree for your garden as you get the opportunity to see the naked tree in its true form.

These photographs with extended captions were all taken locally as I make my way through each day noting and observing the beautiful, often architectural shapes and forms created by nature.


The fragrant white flower of the Magnolia dendata is a wonderful companion tree to red-barked Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' commonly known as a Coral Bark Maple.

This unusual Robinia pseudoacacia 'Turtuosa' or Black Locust has a moody and animated character that can reach 50' tall.
The gnarly form of this Magnolia x soulangeana will create a wonderful shadow play on this garden wall.

The very fragrant Rhododendron 'Fragrantissimum' has a great structure with a beautiful exfoliating bark and grows to 5'-6' tall.
Michelia doltsopa, also in the Magnolia family, displays rust-colored, velvet-like buds that are ready to bloom.

An espalier Apple tree is pruned nice and tight to this garden wall creating a great winter silhouette.

Robert Trachtenberg is a landscape designer who lives in Berkeley.