Spectacular fall colors on view for all in Berkeley

Who could ask a tree to provide more beauty and interest than this Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) on Berkeley's Marin Avenue? All photos: Robert Tracthenberg

By Robert Trachtenberg

This has been one of the more spectacular fall color seasons that I can remember for a long time.
The lack of rain and recent cool weather has given us a prolonged show of color that has lasted for
several months now. Maybe it is my Pittsburgh PA, roots but the fall season is my favorite time of the year.

When people think about providing color and interest in a garden they typically want to talk to me about the spring time and what will be blooming. But for me the fall season provides the greatest opportunity for color and ever changing surprises as leaves go from green to yellow to brilliant orange and red.

An allée of Maidenhair trees (Ginkgo biloba) light up this residential street in west Berkeley. The Ginkgo tree is an ancient survivor from prehistoric times (200 million years ago) native to China. Take a moment to admire the glow of the leaves of the Ginkgo when back-lit by sunlight as it will soothe your soul

A Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is a classic American street tree but not typically seen in Berkeley. Here is a nice example of the leaves beginning to fade from green to a scarlet color. The yellow back drop is a Gingko tree. The Uplands
The Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) has found a home here as it is seen widely throughout all of Berkeley. Yes, it is common, but truly irresistible in every way and every season. Perhaps one of the most perfect trees, it typically displays an open structure that allows a beautiful filtered light to fall through the tree and on to ground. Casting intricate shadows, the Japanese Maple is animated in its form and poetic in its open branching and detail of its leaves. I just love this tree
A Japanese Maple in a woodland setting on The Uplands is a perfect under-story companion to a majestic California Live Oak
There are hundreds if not thousands of varieties and cultivars of Japanese Maples. Just look at the delicate detail of the leaves and the range of color on a single branch. Japanese Maples typically do not like full sun and prefer filtered light and a protected area away from wind
This is part of large grape (Vitaceae) vine growing on a metal trellis along the entire front of a property on The Uplands. Though a bit unusual for a residential application it is a really wonderful vine for your garden landscape. This can be left to grow large enough to cover an entire pergola or arbor or you can prune it back seasonally to produce your own grapes. It is a deciduous vine so you will get your summer shade and your winter sun
This Red Maple (Acer rubrum "October Glory) seems to be one of the new favorites of city arborists over the American Sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua). This Maple only gets to be about 35' tall and is not destructive to city sidewalks, unlike the American Sweetgum that you see everywhere in Berkeley. But in fact it is the Sweetgum that has the biggest and best show of color of any tree in our town. The downside is they harbor and hold on to a ton of leaves for a long time and it can be quite a mess. Some people's messes are other people's pleasures. This Berkeleysider still loves the Sweetgum tree
The dark evergreen foliage of a California Redwood provides a great backdrop and contrast for this Ginkgo biloba on Ashby Avenue
One of my very favorite four-season trees is the Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica "natchez') which grows to about 25' tall and 12' wide. This one is on Woolsey St. I love this tree when it is grown with a multi-trunk form as they are very sculptural. This tree has an exfoliating bark that reveals layers of color and texture that peal away as the tree matures. In spring this particular variety has a very showy display of large clusters of white flowers; other Crepe Myrtles will flower in magenta, pink, lavender and red. Delicate branching and the form of the tree, much like a Japanese Maple, make this tree a thing of beauty even in winter. This tree prefers full sun and colder weather, making it a better choice for areas other than Berkeley but we see them growing in a few sunny places here quite successfully. They do not like the coastal influence, so that is why we go with the mildew-resistant varieties. Give it a try
Bringing life to architecture, I love to see vines on buildings. (This one is on University Avenue.) It bothers and frightens many homeowners, but in the right situation I think it is great. This particular vines is a Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). Planted best for northern or eastern exposure, this vine is vigorous and should be taken seriously as it will win the fight
The Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) is an interesting woody plant that provides four-season interest in a small shrub form which can add a lot of depth and dimension to your garden. In the spring, plumes of champagne-colored flowers fade away like puffs of smoke. The range of color from yellow to orange to red is as good as it gets
When I think of fall, I think of Persimmon (Ebenaceae) trees. Why? Because they also have an amazing display of fall color. The large leathery leaves turn a wonderul array of orange and red and then drop their leaves, leaving a naked tree full of luscious fruit! This may be the best small-scale fruit tree for residential use. Like most fruit trees, it likes full sun and should be pruned properly when young to establish a good structure

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.