Chestnut trees - actually horse chestnuts - are ubiquitous in Vienna. They grow to 100 feet tall and blossom in May with long, upright panicles which are white or, more unusually, an old fashioned reddish rose color. The leaves are broad and divided, and in July soft, spiky burrs are already well visible. In the fall, when the leaves turn yellow, then brown, the burrs will crack open, revealing a shiny brown fruit. As children we used to collect these conkers and turn them into little animal creatures with toothpicks for legs. We knew not to eat the fruit. It is toxic.
In L.A. I have occasionally found trees that are similar, probably California Buckeyes. The leaves are different, more waxy, more pointed, but the fruit looks the same, and when my daughter was younger she too learned how to make conker animals. The California Buckeye is much smaller than the horse-chestnut, rendering it unsuitable for the backyards of restaurants. But then - how many restaurants with backyards are there?
Picture: the back yard of Gasthof Waldtzeile, a very good restaurant in Vienna's 13th district