Serene Beauty of a Walnut Tree

Serene Beauty of a Walnut Tree

I grew up in a walnut orchard. When I was a kid, I just kind of took this fact for granted—even all the way through high school. It was only when I got to college that I began to realize how unique this was compared to most peoples’ experiences. In the early spring, almond orchards are unquestionably the heroes, bursting with an explosion of snowy white blossoms tinged with pink.

We here in the San Joaquin Valley can always tell when someone from the urban and suburban areas are driving through because they’re the ones taking selfies in the orchards to post on their social media platforms. The walnut bloom, on the other hand, is—at least visually—a big nothingburger.

But as spring turns to summer and summer turns to fall, the beauty of the walnut tree emerges—and the almond tree runs a poor second. Why? Several reasons.

First, walnut trees are larger—typically reaching a height of about 25-30 feet with a canopy diameter of about 25 feet. Older orchards can have trees much larger, some reaching as high as 50 feet. They are majestic, especially when they’re old. My family had an orchard that—up until two years ago—was still productive even though it had been planted by my grandfather in 1946. Walking through that orchard was like walking through a park. Just beautiful.

Second, walnut trees have a thicker, shadier, more inviting canopy—a welcome relief from the intense summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley where we grow walnuts. Walnut leaves are much larger and wider than almond leaves, and growers love to see trees with lots of foliage to shield the developing walnut kernel from the harsh summer sun. Almonds are heartier in the hot sun and don’t need as much shading, which means they’re also not as attractive—at least, to this seasoned eye.

Third, there’s a distinctive smell as one walks in a walnut orchard—a combination of an earthy, musky smell that is especially noticeable in the morning.

Finally, walnut trees have more of a spreading habit as they grow, causing the canopy to grow together, creating a beautiful dappled light effect on the orchard floor. It’s a wonderful experience to take a walk in a walnut orchard during one of our typical summer mornings. The air is cool—even crisp—owing to the effects of the Delta breezes, as we call them, that come in like a natural air conditioner overnight across the San Francisco Bay Delta and lower the temperatures as much as 40 degrees from the previous day-time highs to the early morning lows just as the sun comes up. In any case, the light summer breeze and the filtered light of the sun overhead create a singular experience for those of us who have the privilege of walking through the orchards. Needless to say, I don’t take this for granted anymore.