Fall: The Color Orange

I love color, and find myself mentally attributing various hues to the time of year.  Nothing quite says “fall” like the color orange. Vibrant orange Cucurbitas line walkways and grocery aisles.  Shades of auburn tumble through the graceful branches of deciduous trees. Cool green lawns seem to disappear beneath a carpet of rich autumn hues.

Chinese Pistache Fall Colors

Chinese Pistache Fall Colors

pistache assorted leaves

Pistache up close

Standing at my kitchen window this time of year, I get a grand view of our Chinese Pistache Pistacia chinensis.The leaves drop slowly, as the tree let’s go of summer.  I often collect a few of them to decorate our Thanksgiving table.  Once the tree is bare for the winter, I get a second view.  Our friends directly across the street have a row of Nandina.  They’re covered in red, orange and gold leaves, with berries in multiple hues.  They’re one of my favorite plants this time of year.

nandina berries

Nandina Berries

Nandina leavesAs an aside, when I first met my dear friend Nandini I had to work hard not to call her Nandina.  I assured her it was a compliment to be mistaken for something so vibrant and alive.

According to Sensational Color:

Orange, is a close relative of red. It sparks more controversy than any other hue. There is usually strong positive or negative association to orange and true orange generally elicits a stronger “love it” or “hate it” response than other colors. Fun and flamboyant orange radiates warmth and energy.

Interestingly, some tones of orange, such as terra-cotta, peach, and rust have very broad appeal. Orange stimulates activity and appetite and encourages socialization.

If you’re lucky enough to live in California, you’ll still see oranges on the tree. Not to be undone, the seed pods on the Magnolia take on a similar hue.

Magnolia seed pod

Magnolia Seed Pod

How do you feel about the color orange?


“Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” Wassily Kandinsky

Graceful Acer: A Tree for all Seasons


A graceful Acer hugs the side of our house; a stunning specimen of a tree. Long, green limbs branch out low from the trunk, giving way to seven-point leaves. It’s taller than our one-story house, and big enough to provide shade.

Acer branch

Graceful Branches

Acer green leaves

Acer 7-Point Leaves

As much as I love the changing colors this time of year, I also feel a little wistful. Though we left Ontario, Canada when I was 7, I feel a cultural tug to my Canadian heritage.  Shorter, cooler days and the lovely hues of fall make me a little homesick for my place of birth.  Crazy, eh?

Our maple tree is an Acer palmatum, also known as a Japanese Maple. In our arid climate, home to year round citrus trees, the Acer serves as a lovely demarcation of the four seasons. In the spring and summer months, it offers shade for the patio.  It shelters part of our living room from the blaring summer sun.  I can see the tree from our bedroom, entry way, living room and of course the garden. Hummingbirds rest on the branches, waiting for a turn at the feeder.  Cheeky squirrels hide their nuts in the ground under the tree’s canopy. Just yesterday two of the cats took turns sleeping under the tree.  Who knows what that was about.

squirrel under Acer

Found a Peanut

Acer samaras

Acer Samaras

Now it’s autumn’s turn in the spotlight.  Leaves are changing to more vibrant hues. The fruit, known as samaras, populate the tree.  Since frosts are rare, our Acer holds on to its leaves for quite a while.  Last year, with so little rain, the dead leaves clung to the branches well into winter. You could see all the new leaf buds forming at the same juncture.  Occasionally I gave the tree a gentle shake so I could enjoy the rustle of crisp leaves scraping past the branches in a graceful free-fall.  It’s a gorgeous specimen, year round, but in these early fall days, it reminds me of a place I used to call home.

Acer red leaf

The first of the Acer leaves turn red


  • Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple)
  • Acer (A genus of trees including the Canadian Maple)


It’s Arbor Day: Have you Hugged Your Favorite Tree?

Proud Tree Hugger

If you can’t plant a tree somewhere today, arbor day enthusiasts suggest taking stock of your own.  Are they healthy?  In need of a trim?  Perhaps some fertilizer is in order.

Our suburban lot is about 6,000 square feet.  The house occupies a third of that and what’s left includes the garden, a deck, a patio and a few trees.  Three established trees grew in our backyard when we bought the house, but not a single tree out  front.  I started researching approved street trees before escrow even closed, and together my husband and I settled on a Chinese Pistache.  The Pistache grows in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, perfectly situated for viewing from my home office and the kitchen.

After years of broken sidewalks, car damage and probably lawsuits, the city arborist requires well-behaved “street” trees.  No invasive roots, no sticky sap to damage cars and they’ve banned Liquidambar styraciflua which toss down ankle-turning, stroller-jamming hard, dry fruit.  They are lovely trees in the right setting, but not well suited curbside.  No pip-squeaks either, which is to say, 15 gallon trees (at a minimum) when planted for safe traffic visibility.

We love our tree!  In the first few years, we measured its growth, but eventually it grew too tall.  We had boys by then, so all our attentions shifted down, as we measured their height in inches and eventually feet.

Planting Our Tree
September, 2006

In the fall our tree turns multiple shades of amber, then quietly drops a blanket of leaves, so subtle they hardly need raking.  We hang our singing skeleton from the branch to entertain passers-by around Halloween, and by winter the tree strips to its own skeletal form.

Stunning Fall Color

My youngest son loves climbing that tree and when it was dense with foliage, he once hid up there so he could drop down and surprise his unsuspecting friend.  Last summer, he and a friend rigged a series of buckets and tubes and created an impromptu dunk tank, supported by the trees now-strong limbs.

Enjoying Our Tree in the Winter Months

If that tree could talk, it would have a story to tell.  Have you hugged your favorite tree today?

Tree Hugging Spring Days

Newly Planted, September 2006

Arbor Day, 2012

Mystery Solved: It’s a Squirrel’s Nest

Peanut Tester

I photographed a nest last month, high up in the orange tree.  There was no sign of activity so I  assumed it belonged to a nocturnal mama, most likely an opossum.  This week, purely by chance, I looked up to see a squirrel enter the nest.  How I wished I had my camera!  I’m fascinated by what looks like a paper bag at the bottom of the nest.  I’ll have to dig out some binoculars so I can get a peek without getting any closer than I already have.  It’s such a compliment when nests appear in your garden.

According to A Squirrel Place, “Squirrels are usually born in the early spring. The average litter consists of four. This varies with climate and location.”

What have you seen nesting this spring?

Squirrel Nest: March 25, 2012

Squirrel Nest: April 19, 2012