The Hanging Gardens of Berkeley

By Robert Trachtenberg

I have spent the last month observing and waiting to see what is blooming in Berkeley as we slowly come out of a long, cold winter. Berkeley the Garden City is an incredible place to live, especially if you have a passion for gardens and architecture. In my recent search for plants that are beautiful and distinct, a consistent theme began to emerge. From one end of Berkeley to the other there was an explosion of wisteria blossoming profusely everywhere. I am most captivated by this flowering vine when it is intertwined with history and, in particular, buildings designed by Berkeley architects like Bernard Maybeck.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist on Dwight Way was designed by Bernard Maybeck and built in 1910. Perhaps the crown jewel of all of Maybeck's buildings, this playful fusion of architectural styles incorporates a pergola adorned with Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) wrapping the entire building from Bowditch Street to Dwight Way. All photos: Robert Trachtenberg

Richly detailed fluted columns derived from French Romanesque churches, are laced with pendulous blossoms of wisteria on Dwight Way

There are several types of wisteria. Most common is Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) which winds in a clockwise fashion and the Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) which winds in a counter clockwise fashion. There are more than 25 different cultivars

A well-pruned wisteria can make all the difference in how well the vine looks and performs each year. There are some fantastic videos on YouTube on how to prune your wisteria. This wisteria on Oxford Street was nicely pruned and was just budding out in late March

Here is the same wisteria last week in full bloom on Oxford Street

Wisteria vines provide a great habitat for bees, and on a large vine like these the humming sound is mesmerizing

The entire front of this house on Benvenue Avenue is covered in wisteria and is something I look forward to every year

I watch and wait for this tree-like wisteria to open up in north Berkeley. This wisteria is probably close to 50 years old

When I am out in the field it is difficult to know exactly which cultivars I am looking at. My guess is this is Wisteria floribunda 'Kuchibeni', one of the pink flowering varieties

Like a waterfall, this wisteria cascades over a second-story railing on Scenic Avenue

A white wisteria (Wisteria floribunda 'alba'), like this one on Woolsey, can brighten up a shady courtyard and provide a wonderful natural perfume

Gardens and architecture are uniquely intertwined in our wonderful little hamlet of Berkeley

Robert Trachtenberg, a landscape designer who lives in Berkeley, is the owner of Garden Architecture. This photo essay is part of an occasional series in which Trachtenberg brings an educated eye to the beauty of the nature that surrounds us in Berkeley. 

Strong, sculptural trees bring a sense of community [03.29.11]
Berkeley in bloom: Shadow play and winter silhouettes [03.02.11]

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  • Wonderful, inspiring photos. Thanks!

  • W86stewart

    To heck with you bastardized incarnation of the immense natural beauty of north Berkeley. As a gentlemen born and raised on Colusa ave., I necessarily reject the absence of the noble Japanese Maple and the elegant Calla Lily. A pox, a pox upon thy household.

  • Gorgeous photos! This may warrant a special trip to see that Maybeck church …

  • Kellyquinncash

    Thank you Robert for letting us see Berkeley through your keen eyes! More!!!