The Japanese maples planted in the garden thirty or more years ago were basics, beautiful trees but only the most common that were the only ones to be found at a time when maples were quite expensive and not the staples of the garden that they are today. Somewhere along the way the gardening industry caught on. Most maples are grafted, but this is a skill that many have learned, and Japanese maples transitioned from being a luxury to a commodity. Oregon nurseries, the primary suppliers of Japanese maples, turned from growing tens or maybe a few hundred, to thousands, and along the way a few suppliers branched to a widened selection of dozens of cultivars rather than just the few.
At its core, this garden is centered around five ponds (four small ponds and the large koi pond) and Japanese maples. There are several dozen maples in the garden, and more every year, but I hope that all are integrated into the garden so that the quantity doesn’t stand out. Though some maples stand side-by-side there are none lined up in rows. Almost certainly there are too many trees, with numbers of dogwoods, redbuds , and one of a bunch of others. So, in the context of a garden with seventy trees (just guessing), nearly forty Japanese maples don’t stand out as much as you’d figure.
None of the garden’s maples are rarities. I don’t have the budget for that, preferring the less common that are still available at reasonable prices, and most importantly, at a good size since I am not a patient person. Yes, I’ve recently planted several Japanese maples that don’t stretch as high as my knees, but most of these are dwarfs that I’ve shoehorned into small spaces where the tiny size doesn’t stand out.
My favorite Japanese maple was a bargain, a story I’ve told far too many times, but a tree standing above others in a field of small maples just outside Canby, Oregon. This was a Golden Full Moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, below), one I’d long looked for but could find only knee high trees until running into this stocky five footer. The nursery owner told me the maple was still there because it had been girdled by rabbits. I took a look, decided it was worth the risk, and it was mine, or at least it was several months later when it was loaded for cross country delivery.
The Golden Full Moon requires a break from the hottest afternoon sun, and at the time I planted it the positioning was questionable. But, time tells. The maple’s leaves do not burn, or at least very few do, so while the tree is only slightly shaded I can finally claim that I did something right (a rarity). Several years later I planted another, the cultivar ‘Moonrise’, and it was totally botched, planted in too much sun that I thought could be stretched because the soil was damp. Wrong on both counts. It didn’t last long, with foliage burning just before its roots rotted.
I’ve had considerably more success with other Japanese maples, marveling at two slow growing Lion’s Head maples (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’, above) that tower overhead, All it takes is time.
I am resigned that one of my favorites from Oregon gardens, the variegated Floating Cloud (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’, above) will never be as colorful in our Virginia heat where it fades to minimize the pink new growth. I’ve planted one in part sun and another in shade, but our warm summer nights diminish its best color. Still, it is a splendid tree.
‘Twombley’s Red Sentinel’ is unremarkable except it is the ideal Japanese maple to fit a garden with little space. It’s narrow, columnar form is perfect here, wedged between a wide spreading Gordlinia and a recently planted evergreen dogwood. some day all might merge into one, but I think they are just far enough apart that all will do just fine.
‘Mikawa yatsubusa’ was recently planted, and what took me so long I don’t know. I’ve often admired this densely leafed maple in other gardens, but until the garden was expanded slightly in autumn I was resigned that there was not enough space. The small planting area created now has four Japanese maples. Excessive? Of course.
There are many more maples, but we’ll end today with my least favorite Japanese maple, ‘Gwen’s Rose Delight’ (under the trade name ‘Shirazz’). In spring the new growth is delightfully bordered with a line of cream, but whether it is the local heat or excessive dampness, this unfortunate maple fades badly to a sickly, faded red. I know, not its fault.