Awakenings: Early bloomers in Berkeley

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It seems appropriate that the first bloomers are pure white and often seeded by birds. Myrobolan Plum (Prunus cerasifera) is seen all over town and most often used as rootstock for various stone fruits. Tunnel Road. All photos: Robert Trachtenberg

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.

After a long hibernation and nearly a year to the day since the my father passed away I have been inspired again to document this burst of beautiful new spring blossoms. With a heavy heart and open eyes, it took a full year for me digest and grieve the loss of someone so important to me, to try to understand how he has impacted my life.

Now with each passing season I have a deeper appreciation for the precious cycles of life and for that I am so grateful.

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The shadow play of trees is a personal obsession of mine. As a designer I love to imagine how sunlight will filter through a tree casting playful shadows on the wall of your house or even inside your house. Something to consider…

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After a good rain or wind you will often find a gentle carpet of blossoms along our Berkeley pathways
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These flowers are laid out in unison like a set of steps for small birds or insects
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The structure of this tree is irregular and muscular in form, and yet lithe and delicate like a beautiful dancer. When the flower has dropped its petals it reveals a seed pod as interesting and beautiful as the flower itself. If I were a fine artist I would be making paintings of the special characteristics and details of these trees
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The Yulan Magnolia is fragrant and gets to be about 35’ tall and 30’ wide. I love seeing the translucent pearly white blossoms from below
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The process or the sequence of the flower budding out on the Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata) is truly fascinating. On a single tree you can see the premature swollen buds that are covered in furry type of husk. On another branch nearby you can witness the flower bursting open and peeling away the outer protective layer of this fuzzy sheath. Alvarado Road
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Then,, like a ballet scene from Fantasia, the blossoms open up casting their shadows on neighboring walls. Vicente Road
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The Thundercloud Myrobalan Plum (I love saying that name!) is simply the pink flowering version that we see planted en masse on many of our beautiful Berkeley streets. These guys sometimes set tasty crops of little plums and, for many, the fruit is a real mess when it hits the ground. Vicente Rd
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For a great effect I love planting crocus in a mass around rock outcroppings. They are a late winter or early spring bloomer. The most expensive spice in the world (saffron) is harvested by plucking the orange red stigma you see in the center of the flower. To harvest saffron (Crocus sativus) pluck the stigmas as soon as the flowers open, then dry them, and store in a glass vial. Benvenue Ave.
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Magnolias. I can’t say enough good things about them. My best guess on this one is that it is a Lily Magnolia (Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’). I adore this particular species as it only grows to about 12’ tall by 15’ wide. Typically they are multi-trunked with a dark wine red outside and pink inside. Woolsey St.
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Another of my favorite small scale trees/shrubs is the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata). A profuse early bloomer, there are many varieties that range in color from pure white to pink. Benvenue Ave.
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When I look at the bud of this tree the anticipation of what will be coming next is enough to keep me up at night. Yes, call this Berkeleysider crazy, but it doesn’t get better than this

Read Robert Trachtenberg’s previous columns:
Spectacular fall colors on view for all in Berkeley [12.19.11] 
Memories of a fading summer: Shades of blue in the garden [11.03.11]
An all-white garden: Serene, simple, sophisticated [05.25.11]
The Hanging Gardens of Berkeley [04.22.11]
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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