Several of the garden’s Japanese maples started as runts or rejects. When the gardener is continually unable to resist adding more plants it’s important to get a bargain here and there, particularly when the wife screeches whenever a new plant is brought home. It helps to soothe her (though only slightly) when the plant has been salvaged from a dumpster, or pulled from the discount section for next to nothing.
The Butterfly Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’, above) was beaten and battered when I found it. It appeared that it had fallen off a truck, and then run over a time or two. There were few leaves, and branches had been mutilated so that it was a pitiful sight. I don’t recall if I paid a penny for this reclamation project, but it wasn’t worth much. ‘Butterfly’ is a slowpoke in the best circumstances, but it took several years for it to grow to look just okay, and five years before it regained its full vigor. Now, it’s happy, and so am I, though there are branches only on the perimeter and none in the center. But, no one will notice, and I won’t tell if you don’t.
‘Butterfly’ has green and creamy white variegated foliage, and I don’t think it will ever grow taller than ten feet, so it’s a good Japanese maple for smaller gardens. With a damaged central trunk it has spread wider than its usual form, but the only problem is that I’ve planted it a bit too close to a stone path so I have to duck under the branches when they’re wet from rain. ‘Butterfly’ occasionally sends out branches of solid green foliage that are distinctly different in color and shape, and these should be pruned out a few times a year so these branches do not overwhelm the slower growing variegated parts of the tree.
The variegation of ‘Butterfly’ is quite different from the Floating Cloud maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’, above) that I planted earlier in the spring, though both are green and white. ‘Butterfly’ is a creamier white with prominent portions of green, while the Floating Cloud maple is whiter, with much less green, and sometimes a bit of pink that fades as the leaves mature into summer.
‘Oridono Nishiki’ (Acer palmatum ‘Oridono Nishiki’, or sometimes ‘Orido Nishiki’, above) has foliage with irregular combinations of green and white, and also pink on newly emerging leaves, but older leaves often fade to green. In my garden this vigorous Japanese maple has battled a grove of bamboo that at one time engulfed the entire tree when it was smaller. Somehow it has persevered, and now it towers over and shades the bamboo.
A ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’, below) was planted by the front walk when the garden was first constructed twenty some years ago, and in my haste to get the garden started the maple was planted so that it would eventually grow to partially block the walk. So, I decided to move it, but it was too big for one person to handle. I was three quarters of the way into the transplant when I realized my dilemma, but instead of recruiting one of my sons to help I hooked a strap to the rootball that was halfway dug out, tied the strap to the bumper of my little car, and jerked it out of the hole.
Clumps of dirt and root were left dragging behind as it was pulled to the new hole, and needless to say this is not the proper way to transplant a tree of any sort, much less a treasured Japanese maple. But, after replanting it I paid a bit of extra attention to watering for the next month, and it survived with barely a hiccup. I’ve found that most people consider Japanese maples to be fragile and slow growing, when I believe that the opposite is true.
Now, the ‘Crimson Queen’ has grown nearly eight feet tall and ten feet across, and it grows slightly into the driveway so that I warn delivery drivers not to enter. The Japanese maple isn’t the only plant that grows into the driveway, but it’s the most valued. I laugh when friends and family pull into the drive, and then have to back out through this obstacle course. The driveway is short and straight, but the overhanging plants demand veering one way then the other. Nothing has been damaged so far, but it’s inevitable, and I hope when it happens that it’s the fernspray cypress, or nandinas, or roses, and not the maple.
There are now twenty-three Japanese maple cultivars in the garden (I think), and if I can figure something of interest to say about them I’ll be back with more photos. I’ve planted many dozens of trees in the garden, and more shrubs and perennials than I can count, but my favorite plants are the Japanese maples. There are many varieties to choose from, and I hope that I might spark some interest for someone out there to consider something a little different.