I don't remember when I 'discovered' Japanese Maples, but it was a relatively short time ago, like in the last three years. How I have managed to live nearly fifty years on this earth and not notice these beauties before that, defies all that is reasonable in this world. I do remember when I fell head over heels in love with them, though.
Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas has a lovely Japanese Garden with quite an assortment of Japanese Maples and they're planted so attractively that you feel like you've been transported to some zen garden in eastern Asia and you sigh with contentment just strolling among them. So many leaf shapes and colors - I had no idea.
That was in 2004 when I first visited Garvan and then returned in 2005 with Romie in tow. Both times, the trip to the gardens was courtesy of my friend Kat's mother, Myra. She and her husband Ken have their own botanical woodland paradise at their home in Hot Springs and Romie and I would just about give both our right arms to live surrounded by such peaceful beauty.
Seeing all those Japanese Maples at Garvan led to one thing, don't you know? The desire to have at least one of them of my own. So some time later when I found that Walmart had small ones (Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Inaba Shidare') for sale for $17, I was one happy girl. I had the perfect spot for it with an eastern exposure near the house, which meant it would be protected from the sometimes harsh west winds. There was one problem: My dwarf Korean lilac (Syringa meyeri) was already happy there.
So I did what any other gardener who knows a Japanese Maple's worth would do. I moved the lilac. Never mind that it was mid-bloom when I did it. I crossed my fingers and forged ahead and the lilac went on to put out the most gorgeous blooms it had ever had. Then it promptly died on me. Serves me right, you're thinking. Yeah, I know.
But wait, there's more.
Shortly after we had planted the new Japanese Maple, my grandma and I were shopping at Beining Nursery when she said to me, "You need a Japanese Maple for your gardens." I explained to her that we had one already, to which she replied, "Yes, I saw that little one. You need a real Japanese Maple." She went on to tell me she would buy one for me if I'd like.
If I'd like?
The Japanese Maples Grandma was looking at there were not the little ones I had gotten so excited about finding at Walmart. These were about four feet tall and not so cheap. I didn't know why she wanted to be so generous and buy one for me, but I was so excited and grateful. We picked one out and took it home. Now...where to plant it?
You guessed it. Once again, prime real estate was occupied and once again what was there was evicted. The little Walmart JM found a new home on the east side of the gazebo. I rationalized that it would be well suited there anyway, since my little oriental garden area was adjacent. The gazebo would provide a little windbreak, too. So the new larger 'Emperor I' laid claim to its kingdom and rules today.
Not all Japanese Maples are hardy to our zone 5. Some of the ones I've seen can't take the harsh winters here. Both 'Emperor I' and 'Inaba Shidare' have survived at least one winter with us and look good going into their second.
Earlier this year, I purchased a very small green cultivar - 'Mikawa yatsubusa' - a dwarf Japanese Maple which will only grow to a height of 3-4 feet tall in ten years. It's marginally hardy to our zone, so this summer I kept it potted until fall, when I decided to plant it in the ground in a very sheltered location next to the house and mulched it well. I may just keep it there permanently, since it's such a slow grower. Its fall color is yellow.
Mom gave me a smaller 'Emperor I' last fall. I can't remember why she didn't want it, but it was growing a bit crooked. Not a problem really, since angular growth is part of what makes JMs so attractive in the first place, and we planted it between our two Japanese False Cypresses, which are on a slight slope away from the pool. It's growing a bit straighter now.
The Emperors are absolutely gorgeous this fall. Just in the last two weeks, they have undergone a big color change. Beautifully burgundy in the summer, they're now ruddy red and demand your attention as you round the corner of the house and it comes into view. When the hosta below one still had its yellow fall foliage, it was quite the contrast.
November 9, 2007