Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wisteria Hysteria

I am only partly kidding when I attribute pockets of tremendous strength in our area to the wisteria being in bloom. There is something about wisteria adorning the side of a classic Berkeley brownshingle that simply cannot be improved upon. This week we can find wisteria on wood trellises and arbors, wisteria draping elegantly in front of a window. Three different types of it drape Maybeck’s First Church*, softening the concrete pillars with its amazing contrast of color, shape and fragrance. Another Maybeck landmark, the Kennedy music studio, is wearing a wrap of white wisteria along a balcony.
This has been a remarkably beautiful spring. It starts with the narcissus and expands to other bulbs: crocus, freesia, bluebells, tulips. The flowering trees this year provided a breathtaking display from white, to pale pink to deepest, richest magenta. But it’s the wisteria that many of us wait for.

When the new Haas School of Business was built a number of years ago now they built two trellises in front, facing Gayley road. Landscapers theoretically could have planted any climbing vine. But the choice was obvious, or one could say, essential. This is Berkeley after all; it needed to be wisteria.

The different varieties and hybrids allow us to be overpowered by its beauty over the course of several weeks. My neighbor has the densely packed form that was mostly bloomed out by last week. For the wisteria in my yard, draping gracefully over a small trellis, this is THE week. I stand under it, inhale deeply, and the perfume provides a mini-vacation for my senses.
I gave a tour of local homes to visitors from Indiana last week, and it was the wisteria that wowed them. We were supposed to be focused on houses, but we kept sharing announcements of the latest “wisteria alert.” They very much enjoyed the cherry trees. The echium was just starting to cover its spikes with intense shades of blue. I was able to drive them by a lovely display of tulips. Camellias were blooming in profusion. But it is the wisteria they will remember.

* The First Church of Christ, Scientist, considered by many to be Bernard Maybeck’s greatest masterpiece, is at the corner of Dwight Way and Bowditch in Berkeley. It is the only building in Berkeley that has been designated a National Landmark.

If you're a fellow wisteria enthusiast, you may enjoy my album of East Bay wisteria views from the past week.

All photos copyright © Arlene Baxter 2008.

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