Monday, 28 May 2012


Time to get our attention back down to Earth from the lofty cupolas. But this time, we are not gazing at flowers, at least not directly: rather, people, in their most neighborly activity, is what we will be studying.

The cosy neighbors of Stuart Street, organized in SNAP, arrange a street party twice a year or more, called a "Potluck". For us Europeans, this means you bring your own food and drink and have a ball around a large common table. The place for this event is the street segment just above the signs you see in the above picture, the barrier fending off any unwelcome motorists who might interfere in the general fun.

I had heard this party mentioned some time ago, but it had slipped my mind until, Saturday last, I got the feeling in the morning of having missed something important. Sure enough, soon I got an e-mail from Mugur, Karl's partner, that a potluck was in preparation. Off I rushed, grabbing a bottle of wine on my way out, eager not to miss the fun. Karl was just about to put the above signs on the street, blocking off the second segment of Stuart Street between Fulton and Ellsworth.

No sign of a party yet, but, further up the street I could glimpse some activities on the roundabout at Ellsworth. It turned out that the good neighbors of Stuart had found it fruitful to start the event by doing a bit of gardening on the flowerbeds there. This gave me a sudden flash-back to the co-operative on Myrstuguberget in Huddinge, where I used to own a small house, and where all of us partners used to clean the commons twice a year.

Myrstuguberget, a nice residential co-operative south of Stockholm
Architect: Ralph Erskine   Photographer: Ambercroft
It was heart-warming to see how, even in this the most individualistic country of them all, there was a vivid community spirit expressing itself in the neighborhood.

Whilst this was going on, other participants started to put tables and chairs on the street, under the warm sunshine of a Californian morning. I was a bit ashamed of having brought only wine, but this did not prevent me from savoring all the delicious food being served smack on the street and having a good time, whilst observing the local mores.

In contrast to us Swedes (counting even myself among this tacit crowd) the Stuart residents are a mighty talkative bunch. During the meal, the latest news were being traded and an easy sense of comradeship reigned over this small enclave. With the food and drink all finished, and when us Swedes would tend to leave for home, the real fun began with a great round of story telling and joke rendering, to the great amusement of all of us. But why spill unnecessary words on this; better let the pictures below do the telling. But, dear readers, stay tuned; there is more text to come after those pictures!

Thank you, dear readers, for staying with me on the blog post. I would now like to take the occasion to present to you two Master Gardeners that happen to live opposite each other on that special stretch of Stuart Street where we are having the Potluck. Both have earned rewards from the City for their innovative and sustainable street gardens. The Gentleman below is Wilbur Hoff who, together with his partner Kris, keeps a wonderland of many flowered buds in front of his house. The small marvels are native plants, who are economical, if not to say parsimonious in their use of water. You see him standing in his backyard, who is no less colorful than the front. 

Master Gardener Wilbur Hoff     Below his Prize
Not to be bested by his friend and close neighbor, the Gentleman below has chosen quite a different route towards sustainable gardening. Karl Reeh, already well known to you from earlier blog posts, has, together with his late partner Jerry Rodgers built up what I only can describe as a kind of South-East Asian jungle, with bamboo trees, banana trees and all, and so densely cultivated that his house can  hardly be seen within this green overwhelmingness.

Master Gardener Karl Reeh    To the left his Prize
I am lifting my cap to these two floriculturists. But the story would not be complete without recalling a third Magnus of all things flowery:  Rudi Schmid, Professor in Botany, retired from UCB and editor of a prominent journal in the field. You have met him already in an earlier blog post (Lofty Parks). Between the three of them, you would be hard put to get a question about gardening and the flowers therein unanswered, let me assure you!

Saturday, 26 May 2012


For quite some time now I have been content to let the blog deal with Berkeley, and focus on matters of smaller and smaller dimension. I trust you agree with me that it is time for a break. Let's look at grander schemes for once and let's move across the Bay.

San Francisco is among the younger great cities in the US. You know which is the oldest, still on-going, city founded by Westerners, don't you? In case you hesitate, let me tell you that it is St. Augustine (Florida), founded in 1565. Many people believe it to be Santa Fé, but that city is only the oldest State Capital. Interestingly, Santa Fé could as easily be named San Francisco as Frisco itself, since its full name is La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asis!

Now back to San Francisco: as already its name indicates, it too was founded by the Spaniards, way back in 1776, as the Mission and Presidio San Francisco de Asis. It essentially remained a small, contented, settlement, as first the Mexicans and then the US took possession, and it may have remained so, had the Gold Rush not occurred. That turmoil, succeeded by a silver rush and the arrival of the Pacific Railroad, turned this quiet corner of the West almost overnight into a mighty metropole.

A sure sign of the boisterousness of this turnaround was the megalomaniac building frenzy creating that intriguing city. As an example, construction of a mighty City Hall started in the second half of the 1800s; after 27 years of labour, the Hall opened finally in 1899. It surely must have been the largest building in the world in those pre-Pentagon days! Its potent cupola was intentionally designed to outpace the one of the Capitol in Washington DC. Visitors stood stupefied at the view of this colossal city administration.

Alas, how are the mighty fallen! Barely seven years after the building stood ready, in its virginal glory, the great earthquake of 1906 put an early end to it! As the smoke after the succeeding holókaustos cleared, just the smoking barebones of the hybristic monument remained. And not only this once mighty building, the whole of San Francisco lay in smoking ruins! 

Occupants of a normal city may have given up hope at that stage and moved their residence elsewhere. In fact, some did, and the rise of Oakland on the opposite part of the Bay bears witness to such moves. In spite of this San Francisco, in a spirit of utmost indefatigability, reshaped itself in record time, in a great rush of renewed building frenzy. After a short period of only nine years, the city's administrative and commercial centers were standing again, proud and shining, to welcome the great Pacific Exposition of 1915. As an example, the City Hall was rebuilt within the record time of only two years and finished in time for the Exposition. 

This time around, it was decided to give the building more harmonious proportions, in line with the neo-classic design ambitions of the Californian "Gründerzeit". You may recall that this was the time, when most of the traditional buildings of the UCB Campus were being designed and built (The Jewel in the Crown). The Architect was Arthur Brown, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, just like Julia Morgan. As a result, the building is smaller than the original one, even if it still ranges over two city blocks, and the builders have kept the ambition to have its cupola outpace that of the Capitol in Washington DC.  

Will the new building be prepared to withstand major earthquakes, in contrast to its predecessors? Unfortunately, Arthur was no Julia and lacked her keen engineering sense of "building to last". The Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, although considerably milder than the one of 1906, still did considerable damage to the City Hall. The dome turned 10 cm like the cap of a soft drink bottle and there were damages to the main building supports. 

Left: Capitol Building, Washington DC                     Right: City Hall, San Francisco

As a sign of the true pioneer spirit of America, still in existence in any time of need, a grand solution was found to isolate the building against future earthquake damages. The whole complex was separated from its foundations, sawing through the walls so to speak, and lifted up a meter or two. Thereupon, a great number of huge steel reinforced "rubber balls" were forced into the gap, leaving the building to rest on them. The idea behind is that the wave undulations caused by the earthquake would be dampened, if not obliterated, by the rubber balls, keeping the main building more or less isolated from the quake.  

Impressive as it may be, the building completely escaped my attention during my early student days in Berkeley. Youth strives for adventures and happenings, rather than the patient contemplation of building plans and edifices. But two years ago I had finally matured enough to become interested in this quite remarkable building. This was when I attended the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in the town, which is starting off straight in the front of the main entrance. After an admiring glance at its wall of columns, superseded by the cupola of cupolas, glittering in the sun with its bands of golden stripes, I promised myself to take a closer look at this the most impressive among all city halls at my earliest convenience. Alas, this promise was sorely forgotten, but it resurfaced at the present visit to California, so within the second week of my stay, I decided to pay it a visit. 

When striding through the main entrance, I was surprised by the ease and informality of access. A friendly lady at the information desk asked me to go through the, nowadays prevalent, screening frame but, otherwise, I was completely left to my own devices. Not only that, I was also more or less the only one standing in the main hall and admiring the surroundings. Compare that with the company of hundreds and hundreds of tourists crowding you if you dare enter the Capitol Building in Washington DC. 

The large picture above was taken on the top of the broad staircase that leads the visitor up to the main floor and the Chamber of Supervisors. You can see a glimpse of the stairs going up in the title picture. More importantly, follow my eyes to have a look at the middle opening on the first floor opposite to where I am standing. Within it you can glimpse the door to the mayor's office and, with a bit of imagination, believe to hear the thunder of a revolver being shot at poor George Moscone, who was killed by Supervisor White precisely there back in 1978, soon to be followed by poor Harvey Milk. On a more positive note, Marilyn Monroe was married there to Joe DiMaggio in 1954.

A lot could be said about City Hall's splendor, but I leave it to you to discover, first hand, what a marvelous building this is. Let's instead exit the Hall at the main entrance and take a stroll toward BART from there. There are two Plazas here to await our attention. The first, adjacent to the City Hall, is called Civic Center Plaza. It is a bit peculiar. Comprising a huge space of fully two city blocks, it looks curiously empty and waiting to be filled with imaginative landscaping. I am sure that Fredrick Law Olmsted could have made a spectacular park out of this expanse if he would have been engaged to that effect. Instead, the Plaza seems to have been left as prey to the City Fathers' fancy at any given time period. At present, it looks to me like a large exercise field for the army, with trees aligned in the middle of it like rows of a platoon standing at attention to be inspected!

In contrast, the UN Plaza, which is considerably smaller in size, is kept more enticing and intriguing by a series of monuments and fountains, some serious, some funky (see picture above right) but all cooperating in keeping the visitor, sauntering about, engaged and in a good mood. 

You may well ask why that space is called UN Plaza. In fact, the UN Charter was signed in San Francisco, back in 1945, albeit not on that precise spot. The proper locality is the War Memorial Opera House, which lies on the other side of the City Hall, quite some distance away. The Opera House is also the locality for another historic event; the Treaty of San Francisco was signed there in 1951, officially ending the Second World War. 

Proceeding along UN Plaza, we soon arrive towards its end, where a last fountain beckons towards Market Street and the city hubbub beyond. To see what I mean, place yourself on the other side of the fountain in the picture above. Looking towards the fountain, you will see a peaceful scene, with sea gulls – or are they pigeons – enjoying the pearly spray. 

Turning your back to the fountain, you may be surprised by the abrupt change of scenery. Vagrrants share the benches with the same gulls/pigeons and in the distance you glimpse the destitute parts of Market Street, far south of the commercial center's urban elegance and hoping for better times!

Friday, 25 May 2012


Aging leads sometimes to surprising insights. Only two years ago, when visiting Berkeley last, I felt like a great adventurer, roaming widely over the East Bay, searching out experience after experience, never tiring of exploring new localities. This time around, it seems as if the brain has decided to slow down the pace. I do not feel that great urge anymore to venture forth into new terrain; instead, I am enjoying a daily ambling walk along the cosy little streets of South Berkeley, returning, more or less, to the same streets over and over again.

You may well ask yourself this: what is the special charm of those streets that entices your blogger to endless explorations? There is no easy answer to this, but I will make an effort nonetheless, since the answer has a bearing, more in general, on what makes a city street pleasurable to walk along. The future of the US may well depend on a good answer, since the ever increasing cost of petrol could bring about a change in people's behavior. At present, if I understand the mentality of the people around here right, you take the car as soon as the distance to cover extends to more than half a kilometer (a quarter of a mile). For me, this is just a short stroll before breakfast, to get an appetite so to speak. The more people start to walk, the more they will appreciate – and request – a pleasurable walking environment.

So what is the answer to the above riddle? I think it is best given by looking at some pictures. Consider the two views below. They have been taken last week, whilst standing on the corner of Stuart and Ellsworth Streets in South Berkeley. The left view shows Stuart Street going west; the right one Ellsworth Street going north. Now I ask you, which one would you rather use as your favorite ambling route? To get a better look, please double click on the pictures. Isn't the answer obvious? And isn't that an important message for city planners?

It took me five visits to South Berkeley, in 1976/77, 1980, 1981, 2010 and the present stay, to consciously figure out the difference. Whenever I am in town, I tend to navigate towards Campus around noon. Although Ellsworth Street would be the obvious route to take, I have always subconsciously avoided it, instead mounting Stuart Street all the way to Telegraph Avenue and taking it from there. Never imagined that there was a reason for the deviation. 

The flash of enlightenment came in a conversation with Karl, my omniscient source of information about all things connected to South Berkeley. He pointed out to me that the City of Berkeley had a special régime concerning the stretch of residential side walks facing the street. The City undertakes to planting trees there, but leaves the fringe between the trees unpaved, trusting the residents in the houses located along that fringe to do their neighborly duty.

Of course, not all residents have the sense of civic responsibility to tend to this fringe. Some simply pave it over, others just let the grass grow as it pleases. But there exist oases of cosy neighborhoods, where the residents really care for their stretches. Two blocks of Stuart Street appear to contain an abundance of such neighbors. The result is astounding! Ambling in those blocks is, by turns, like visiting a botanical garden, entering a tunnel of greenery, now accosting a bamboo jungle, now ... The variation is seemingly endless and the untended or paved over stretches are far between. 

I find especially pleasing those parts of the sidewalk, where residents consider it as an extension of their front garden, and make a conscious choice of landscaping the whole ensemble in a pleasing composite. Let me show how two neighbors, opposite each other, have found different, but equally pleasing, solutions to this challenge.

The above example shows the mirroring approach, with the fringe matching – flower by flower – the front garden. This creates the illusion of walking on a path within a larger botanical garden, very pleasing to the eye. The example below shows how the resident on the opposite side, having remade his front garden effectively into a jungle of bamboos and similar vegetation, continues his creative build-up by shaping a kind of vertical garden on the sidewalk's fringe, constantly increasing the size of the mound by adding new planting material. Only the growl of the tiger is missing in this illusion of South East Asian greenery! We amble in admiration among these many facetted signs of gardening creativity!

Sunday, 20 May 2012


The University at Berkeley never ceases to amaze me. You may wonder what comes next; but bear with me, it takes some warming up to arrive at the topic of today. 

Three weeks ago, I received some visitors from back home in Austria. They were the more welcome since they were from Knittelfeld, hometown of my dear godmother Steffi. Last year, I was on a seven days' pilgrimage, starting from my birthplace, to see her. To my dismay, she was in bad health already then and has since passed away. The visitors came to participate in the Big Sur Marathon and combine this with a sight-seeing tour in the Southwest. Concentrated as I am on Berkeley and its wonders, I enticed them to take a hike around Campus with me. Here they are, sitting on the stairs leading up to the Campanile.

Front: Andy and Margit (Steffi's younger daughter), and Marathon companion
Back: Ingrid (who accompanied me on part of my pilgrimage), and Marathon companion
When ambling upwards (eastwards) on Campus, I usually take a southern route, since I have a particular fondness for the wilder parts of UCB, which are found along South Fork of Strawberry Creek. But with the guests in tow, I chose to go more northward on this guided tour, along Memorial Glade and upwards from there. Suddenly, we arrived at a place that I never had bothered to look at closely, usually rushing by on my way elsewhere. This was a small glade called Mining Circle. There is an elevation in the middle of this circular place, overgrown with grass. We happened to mount it and found, to our great surprise, that there was a pond on its crest, impossible to see from below. And – lo and behold! – the most enticing building was greeting us from opposite the puddle, mirrored splendidly in the water, which was only slightly disturbed by a light breeze.

It turned out the we had stumbled on the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, dedicated to the father of Randolph Hearst, who was a successful entrepreneur in the gold and silver mining business. We briefly entered the building and were as enchanted by its interior as by the building's reflection. Since that memorable discovery I have spent some time researching and documenting the building and it turns out that it has some interesting facts to tell us. 

What looks like a beautiful, albeit relatively small marvel of a building, is in fact the very first edifice erected within the Original Campus Master Plan for the University. This grand name is grand for a reason. Towards the end of the 1800s a new competitor was emerging on the Peninsula, Stanford. The promoters of Berkeley saw with distress that widow Stanford was financing architectural masterpiece after architectural masterpiece in Palo Alto, whereas Berkeley only had South and North Hall to show for it. 

This irked especially another immensely rich widow, Phoebe Hearst, the mother of Randolph Hearst. In a remarkable act of female one-upmanship she financed an international architect competition to design the University's future architectural embellishments. This competition was held in Antwerp in Belgium in 1898 and won by architect Emile Bénard.

Wheeler Hall, Campanile, South and Stephens Hall, still representing a harmonic whole
This gentleman, being French, refused to come to California and implement his plan, but a formidable replacement was found in architect John Galen Howard. He held the position of Supervising Architect of the Master Plan and kept it until his death in 1931 at the age of 67. Under his stewardship all the beautiful buildings in white stone (in classical revival style) adorning Campus were put up. To mention a few: the University Library, the Campanile, Wheeler Hall, Sather Gate, all financed out of the wealthy widow's burse. 

I dearly would like to be transported back to the mid-thirties, to benefit from the marvelous and lofty views that Campus provided in those days. After Galen's (and Phoebe's) death, this prosperous architectural period came to an end. Phoebe's son, Randolph Hearst, kept on financing the odd building after that, but soon redirected his interests towards San Simeon. 

Mining Hall, details designed by Julia Morgan
The building activities after Berkeley's golden age are a sad story. The 'fifties and 'sixties saw a rapid expansion of edifices, every new one uglier than its predecessor; as a result, Campus is nowadays presenting itself to the world as an architectural cacophony, where one has to make an effort looking sideways more often than not, to neglect the bad whilst still appreciating the good. Don't misunderstand me now: UCB is still a marvelous place to visit, even if I am deploring the loss of opportunities to make it a marvel of harmonized architecture. The more to applaud that some of the worst offenders, for example this one just opposite the Mining Hall, are about to be torn down, hopefully to be replaced by buildings more in line with the Grand Master Plan and agreeable to the eye. 

I see that you are getting impatient and longing for a return to today's topic. Not to worry, from now on this post is concentrating on Mining Hall. As I said above, this was the first building by Galen within the Master Plan. This is somewhat amazing, when comparing its style with that of Galen's other buildings, built thereafter. The first one looks distinctly more modern than the latter ones! Even if it has six Dorian columns incorporated into the facade. the remainder looks distinctly Art Nouveau. How could this be? A possible answer is that Galen used a valiant young assistant in the design of the building, trusting her with drawing the facade's accoutrements as well as the structure of the main hall. Who was this enterprising young architect? None else but Julia Morgan, whom we have met already (see "Female Endurance").

We can imagine that Julia, fresh from having received her diploma in Paris, was eager to demonstrate what she had learned abroad. Not only that, she probably was at the peak of her youthful creativity! Have a look at the formidable interior of Mining Building's main hall below. Isn't it a shame that earthquake risks forced Julia to discard with the Iron Pillar Technique applied by her Art Nouveau contemporaries in Europe and instead become the foremost pioneer of reinforced concrete in California? Had she stayed in Europe, she certainly, in my view, could have designed Master Houses at par with those of Victor Horta, the foremost of our Art Nouveauists!

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Concrete as building material does not lend itself to the type of slender, almost ephemeral houses that Art Nouveau at its best could give birth to. On the other hand, what is lost in delicacy is gained in sustainability and for a building to be able to survive even severe earthquakes, whilst still exhibiting architectural aesthetics, must be counted as a formidable achievement by this among the greatest of California's architects.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


I feel there is need for some rest from the lofty themes, so permit me to sneak in a topic from the lower Berkeley ranges for a change. This does not mean that the intermission be lowly. Far from it! This blog is about a great choir and orchestra that drew me out from a temporary melancholic lethargy and made me whole again.

In fact, this is the second time I am blessed with a choir performance during my various stays in Berkeley. You may recall my enthusiastic response to the performance of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus two years ago ("Heavenly Choir"). Now it was time to listen to its East Bay Counterpart, the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. It is difficult to judge which of them is the more impressive, so don't let us be drawn into a discussion about this. Suffice it to say that both are grandiose. It is a miracle indeed to witness their performance at full blast, when 144 souls (in San Francisco) or more than two hundred (in Berkeley) open their golden throats and let mellow tones fill the universe.

The Berkeley event I am hinting at was a performance, last Sunday, of Antonin Dvorak's famous Requiem, with full orchestra, four eminent vocal soloists and, last but not least, the magnificent full bodied Berkeley Chorus. For those not familiar with Antonin's piece, its demanding orchestration and chorusation hardly leads itself to be played at funeral masses. Let's face it, this is a concert piece, if ever there was one. That notwithstanding, at least part of it was played at President Havel's funeral mass. It is said that some Member of the audience questioned whether the lover of Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones would have wanted the soaring grandeur of this Requiem at his funeral. He surely must be mistaken. Not only was Vaclav a true Czech and would not dream of putting aside Antonin, the createst Czech (actually Bohemian) musician of them all. In addition, Vaclav, as anyone else the least familiar with Antonin, would certainly have recalled the important role the composer played in advancing modern music American style.

I was lucky to get to know about this performance in time and have again to thank Karl Reeh for that. One of his garden friends is a Chorus Member who encouraged us to witness this extraordinary performance and Karl was kind enough to take me along in his car. The venue for the event was the large Catholic church of St. Joseph on Addison Street. With its lightly colored interior and aptly vaulted ceiling, not to forget the beautiful glass windows above the altar, it appeared as an appropriate counterpoint to the music. In a way, it reminded us about a rosy late sunshine sky, not unlike those painted by Caspar David Friedrich; against such a romantic background, the wrath of God on Dies Irae would appear the more frightening. And forceful and frightening indeed was the first half of the performance. The full blast of the Chorus sounded like God's Thunder powering down at us with a force that seemed to shake the very fundaments of the church. Thankfully, Antonin's score provided for an intermission, which we put to good use for cleansing body (with coffee) and soul after this onslaught of sounds.

The second part of the performance went in a calmer, more lyrical vain, which helped us come to terms with the inevitable end of our existence, and left us cushioned in God's Mercy rather than defenseless under God's Wrath.

What an afternoon, never to be forgotten!

Saturday, 12 May 2012


Let me start this post with an ancient picture for a change. It shows the beginning of the creation of a great park in the El Cerrito hills, located in the community of Kensington. The year is 1924, I believe, and we see an Italian style grotto already built, with nice bowed stairways surrounding it and a prolonged pool to mirror the grotto in. The view is from a newly-built mansion; standing on grotto's roof, you might have seen a cosy reflection of the building in this lengthy watery mirror.

We can forget the architectural aspects of the picture for a moment and consider the landscape above it. It shows, in an instructive manner, the East Bay hills before the building frenzy started. We are seeing a bucolic grassland, only sparcely intersected by groves of native trees, mostly oaks, where brooks are gurgling or underground aquifers provide the necessary moisture. Now compare this with the view I took ten days ago from approximately the same angle:

Trees: Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia)          Water: Nymphaea (Water lily)
As we can see, the scenery has completely changed. The distant hills  are no longer visible and, in any case, no longer an open landscape; rather, in the immediate distance, an extended park landscape can be glimpsed. Further upwards, smaller private residences abound until, beyond the crest, Tilden Park is taking charge over nature.

Left: Berberis (Barberry)                      Right: Acanthus mollis (Bear's breech)
Does the title picture show us the original landscape of the East Bay, before White Man entered the scene? Far from it! The pre-Columbian days saw no open grassland on those hills; they were covered by dense thickets of macchia (Corsica comes to mind), except where tree groves interrupted the thorny sea. The grasslands are the result of a very recent invasion of Spanish/Mexican rancheros, some 200 years ago, who burnt off the thickets throughout the East Bay and established vast ranches on the hills. Not only the thickets disappeared, the native grass thriving on small batches also went to see its maker, being replaced by European grasses imported in the hide of the cows (see "The Green, Green Grass of Ho-ome").

Left: Equisetum (Horsetail)                 Right: Foeniculum (Fennel)
Compared to Europe, where vegetational changes have to be observed over a thousand years, here in the States everything changes much quicker. Within twenty years or so, the rancheros had established the open grasslands and, within the last 90 years, the hills have been covered by residences and, in rare cases for our enjoyment, by bucolic parks like the one we are about to enter.

Some observant readers have already asked me, whether I had forgotten about the second garden, on the hills, mentioned in the preceding chapter. Not to worry, we will deal with that one now. I had originally intended to deal with both in one single blog post, but pictures and text simply got out of hand, so I decided to divide into two this engaging topic.

Echium (Viper)
Whereas we last time looked at a private garden in the relatively limited space that even a grand private property nowadays is residing in, today's garden is found in an estate in the old sense of the world, looking down serenely at its lesser siblings below and saluting across the Bay its counterpart in grandeur, the Golden Gate Bridge. Garden is not really the right denomination for this green expanse, so let's call it Park. And indeed, we are visiting Blake Garden, the famous Park surrounding Blake House, the official residence of University of California's President.

Kniphofia uvaria (Red-hot poker)
This estate was created by one of the great families in the Bay Area, the Stiles-Blake family. The land was originally owned by Harriet Stiles, who gifted it to her four children. Two of those, Anson and Edward, decided to build a residence each on the land. Eward's house was subsequently sold to the Carmelite Order and still belongs to the Church, separated from the estate proper. Anson's part was instead transformed into a marvelous garden landscape, due to the valiant efforts of Anson's wife Anita and her sister Mabel Symmes. The latter was a landscape architect and laid out the basic garden plan. Together, the two sisters worked for decades to implement that plan, foraging the globe for plants suitable to the Hills' climate and filling the park to the brim with exotic foliage.

The result of their work is astonishing. The narrow area around the residence is laid out like an Italian garden, with flowers from the Mediterranean and the Canaries populating the slope at the residence's back. The front is a marvel of architectural planning. The elongated pool provides structure to the lay-out, surrounded by lush Magnolias and polished off by the winding staircase and symbolic "grotto" in the background. Golden fish linger about lazily in the pool, a breeze is whispering in the tree crowns, and the greenery around the staircase beckons the visitor to come thither and explore the remainder of the park, lying just beyond those enticing steps. This Italian type garden is of course only a minor part of the park; around it an English type park of artfully "untended" landscapes is spreading its wings.

I was invited to visit this marvel of a park by a new-found friend, whom I got to know first by his astute comments on an earlier blog. His name is Rudi Schmid and he is Professor (retired) in Botany at UCB. The plant is not yet conceived that would escape his universal knowledge of all things green. We have to thank him for the two ancient pictures shown above, as well as for the plants' name indicated, for once, under each relevant picture. He also introduced me to the Park's valiant guardian, Lauri Twichell, who is managing the park together with her three assistants. Only four gardeners for this huge estate? Well, we should not forget the volunteers (to be counted in the tens and twenties), as well as the UCB students in botany who do their homework here.

Rudi and Lauri, not to forget Rudi's lively companion Fleur
Rudi took me on a long and much educational tour around the park, explaining to me all the intricate details of its design and plants. Unfortunately, photographer as I am, I was unable to take all of it in, since I was mostly concentrating on picturing the many small marvels. That notwithstanding, let's highlight the park's important features, as I remember them.

Clivia miniata between redwood trees
The most impressive of them for me, as lover of "eternal" trees, was the grove of redwoods located at the park's fringe along a quietly gurgling creek. When descending the grove, many a small bridge and an enticing pond invited us to proceed, and some interesting flowers, rare to grow under and between redwoods, according to Rudi, led our steps to advance more eagerly.

Left: Clivia miniata                       Right: Hedera helix (English ivy) clinging on redwood
In the center of this quiet grove, suddenly Lauri re-appeared, this time accompanied by a group of enthusiastic children, admiring the redwoods just as I am used to do. Isn't it charming to see small kids, with their heads turned firmly upwards, paying tribute to those red Methuselahs?

After spending quite some time in the cool and calming shadows of the red giants, it was time to explore the remaining parts of the park. As we mounted towards the grove's upper fringe, a green abundance of leaves was welcoming us, pointing us towards the more open oak ranges. 

Asarum caudatum (Wild ginger)
Many an oak was standing there, with their lower branches extending almost horizontally towards the light. As we were ambling among these trees, which generously let through ample sunlight to the shrubs and flowers underneath, I suddenly felt like back home in Sweden, where, in mid-June, the oaken ranges abound with light and flowers, just as they did here on the hills that day. Of course, the oaks with their horizontal branches and undivided leaves soon called me back to reality, as did the flowers who quite differed from our colored companions back home. 

Cistus X purpurea (Orchid rockrose)
As you can see from the next picture, Rudi did his best to explain to me the names and properties of vegetation, trees, brushes, flowers and all that we met on our way. I was unable to retain them all whilst we were ambling through this abundance, but Rudi was so kind as to remind me of the names afterward, when he saw the pictures, so I am still able to provide you with their correct denominations. 

Ceanothus (Wild lilac)
And now, dear readers, comes a first in the history of this copious blog! A juxtaposition of the hunter and his prey, so to speak. Thanks to Rudi you can see me photographing the very flowers that are on the picture below to the left. This was an occasion that demanded the deepest concentration from your blogger! I had to take two photos with different adjustments, to be merged later in Photoshop, to catch this complicated scenery.

Left: Phlomis fructicosa (Jerusalem sage)                     Right: Courtesy Rudi Schmid
Turning yet another corner, we passed by a small cliff, along which the two garden sisters had planted still more of the flowers that are adorning the park wherever you look!

Yellow plant: Sedum
I have already mentioned that the sisters also provided for a "dry" Mediterranean section with plants that thrive in those parts of the world, as well as on the "Fortunate Islands" (The Canaries). When walking along the backside of the mansion, I recognized for once several high rising flowers that I had met many times during my hikes on Gran Canaria. For instance, take a look at the plant adorning the beginning of one of my Canariablogposts and compare with the corresponding plants growing below the Blake House, in the picture below:

Plant in foreground: Echium (Viper)
We are approaching the end of our walk, dear readers! But let us tax your patience one moment longer, by returning to the Italian type "grotto" in front of the mansion, mounting the stairs surrounding that contraption and continuing further up the slope behind it. 

A reward for your patience is awaiting you up there. Suddenly, a clearing opens up among the trees and brushes; Blake House is now completely hidden among the trees, but the most marvelous view of the Bay is spreading itself out before our astonished eyes. Far in the distance, we can glimpse the Golden Gate with its rust-red companion and below our feet lies the sea of houses that is El Cerrito. Again we can confirm that the rises above North Berkeley and El Cerrito face the Golden Gate straight on across the Bay. 

By now we have spent two hours in this marvelous park and I guess you are getting exhausted by this lengthy report. But the time spent on this post was worth it, don't you think? It is not every day that you are visiting the official residence of the President of the University of California!