The Colors of Fall: Our Own Special Tree

colorful leaves

Colorful leaves

New England states are known for stunning displays of fall color.  My husband and I crossed the country by train one year so we could enjoy the spectacular (and fleeting) beauty.

We also had the good sense to plant our own fall color in the strip of land between the street and the sidewalk.  Though there were four beautiful trees growing in the back yard when we bought our house in 1996, we didn’t have a single tree out front.

August, 1996

Planting the tree
August, 1996

We planted two that first year, and have since planted a couple more.   The Magnolia shows off in early spring with huge, snowy-white flowers but the fall belongs to the splendid Chinese Pistache.

The City of San Jose requires a permit before planting a tree in the sidewalk strip, the space between the sidewalk and the street.  They provide a list of “approved” street trees.  Approved trees must have non-invasive roots, non-staining fruit and other good-neighbor qualities.  In the past, neighboring streets sported Liquidambar trees.  They’re pretty but a nuisance when planted curbside.  Invasive roots lift the sidewalks, causing myriad tripping hazards, and the seed pods are hard enough to twist an ankle when stepped on.  I remember getting them caught in the wheels of the boys’ s stroller and later in the undercarriage of scooters.  One by one, homeowners removed the Liquidambar, leaving neighborhoods bereft of trees.

A few years back the trend reversed, and once again families are planting trees.

Planting a tree is an act of hope and optimism.  It also says “I’m here to stay!”  My family moved a lot when I was a child, and I moved even more during college and my early working career.  The same was true for my husband. Planting a tree outside our front window said  “we plan to stay awhile.”

chinese pistache newly planted

August, 1996

chinese pistache spring

Spring, 2011

Now and again my husband grumbles that our tree is not as tall or as full as the one across the street.  I immediately come to our trees’ defense and assure him that it’s just fine.  BK (before kids) we used to measure the tree’s height each year.  We settled into life raising two boys, and measured their growth each year instead.

Winter Views of the Pistache

Growing boys, sleeping tree

Now we have three strapping teenagers (two boys and one tree) and all three are taller than me.  The colors of fall, and our beautiful tree, are an introspective time to reflect.

chinese pistache

November 12, 2013

hummer in pistache

This little hummingbird sang while I raked

25 thoughts on “The Colors of Fall: Our Own Special Tree

  1. Absolutely gorgeous – the tale of your fall tree. The tree learnt from you to lay down its roots, relax and flourish! What a fabulous life experience for your boys – growing up alongside your beautiful fall tree. I always enjoy boiling the kettle, steeping the tea and settling in to read your wonderful blog – today was an extra special treat! x


    • That is such a sweet thing to say! Thank you so much. (Can you sense the big, wide smile on my face?)
      I hope your week is off to a good start. Are your days still getting warmer?

      We’re finally expecting rain tomorrow after many, many dry months. I sure hope it comes through.



  2. Wonderful snippet from your life honey girl! Growing trees and boys is obviously something you excel at – an absolutely lovely story!!

    Has the tree grown considerably in the years between now and 2011? It seems so much bigger and bulkier in that last shot…….. All that Autumnal beauty – as if it has put on a fluffy, warm jersey. [I think you guys call them ‘sweaters’]

    i still wonder at how we are all living such different lives, in such different climates and seasons, yet all come together in this fabulous webby-world as old and dear friends. It’s so amazing!


    • Thanks so much. Honey girl. I *love* that.

      Here is a secret about growing boys. You turn your back for one minute…and they’re men. It’s all quite astounding!

      I see what you mean about the tree seeming wider, but I eyeballed it the other day in proportion to the driveway and the strip of lawn and I think it is close to the same. I think the bright colors make it appear larger. I should have measured it last week. Half the leaves are down and if it really does rain tomorrow as promised the tree will be bare in no time. It all happens so fast!

      Thanks for your always thoughtful and generous comments.


  3. What a fun post Alys. You’ve displayed the leaves like a Hawaiian sunset, beautiful indeed. Fun to see all the changes out front. You’ve made great design choices too! Your home had nice curb appeal then, but as trends have changed and you’ve made improvements, they are seamless. Not everyone does it so well, bravo. I like that you can really use the entire yard. I really enjoyed your front patio and the settee’s there, nice and cozy. I can’t believe you still have hummers visiting, what a cutie. 😀 I think your boys are lucky to be able to stay in your beautiful home since they were born. That’s probably a rarity. Now they’ve grown, your tree has grown and your garden has grown too 😀 A pinch of beautiful sunshine and a generous cup of love xoK


    • Thanks so much, Boomdee. It was fun reliving some of the moments under that tree.

      We have made many changes to the facade of the house. You forget when you do things over the years, but looking at the first photo (three months after we bought the house) makes me realize how many things of changed.

      Thanks for the ‘generous cup of love’. Right back atcha.



  4. I have heard that magnolia are great trees to grow!

    Anyway, wonderful to see how your tree has developed…. It is true about trees and stayng in one place. My life has been similar in that my first tree went in when I finally bought my house un 2009.


          • The tree, Orleans Reinette, is said to produce a late crop, so that would tie in with later leaf fall, I guess. It has been colder over the last week and perhaps because of that the leaves are changing a little.

            I think your climate will be milder so mid-November for your four in one sounds reasonable. When I lived in Greece I noted autumn (leaves changing) was considerably later than in England (more like December).


  5. I didn’t realize you planted your Chinese Pistache when you moved in. We planted ours when Charlotte was born. We even put her placenta into the roots when it went in. (We saved it in the freezer since we didn’t really know what to do with it until it became apparent after Ruth was arranging for the sidewalk trees to go in). We call it “Charlotte’s tree”, and she takes delight in knowing it was planted when she was born.


    • Hi Darlene,

      What a fascinating story, burying your placenta under the roots of the tree. Did you capture photos as well?

      It’s nice having a story to go with the tree. You’ll cherish it always.

      Maybe you can start taking photos of Charlotte and the tree once a year. That would make a nice record a decade from now.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  6. I never would have known that was the front of your house had I seen the earlier photo out of context-you have made so many beautiful changes! The tree is gorgeous and I love the colors of Autumn! XOXO


    • Hi Betsy,

      Thanks so much! Yes, the house was quite dated. We’ve done a ton of work over the 17 years we’ve lived here. We removed the decorative shudders and the brick, changed the windows, painted the house and of course added all that landscaping and the deck. We love that deck so much. It feels like an extra room half the year.


  7. Love the tree and the changes you’ve made to the house. It’s so much warmer in appearance. Very reflective of the occupants. Boys do grow rapidly. I actually had a moment of watching my son stand near a door frame while we were conversing and swear I saw him grow standing there. Took my breath away. I’ve left so many beloved trees behind in the last 3 houses I lived in. New owners took one out. I’ll hopefully get to plant at least one more. They bring so much joy.


    • I hope you will plant one or two more as well. Maybe five. No sense limited yourself. 🙂

      What an interesting sensation watching your son grow. It has to happen at some time…why not under your watchful eye. That would be mind-blowing.

      I appreciate your kind words about the house. It suits us much better now that we’ve put our own stamp on it.

      Further, though you can’t see it from this photo, the deck leads to a ramp so my sister can make it into the house in one seamless maneuver. It will also allow us to age in place.

      Sorry to hear someone took out a tree. They take so log to grow, but can be out in minutes. 😦


  8. Pingback: Autumn Leaves | Gardening Nirvana

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