Apart from fall-blooming perennials, the big show this season is colourful autumn foliage. Leaving out enormous trees like sugar maple (Acer saccharum, Zone 5), nothing approaches the vivid tones of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum, Zone 6). These are small trees and shrubs, suitable for almost any garden where there is half a day of sun and moist, organic well-drained soil. In autumn they often burn intensely with scarlet, gold and orange. Japanese maples can be expensive plants, but I have about a dozen of them blazing away in my garden right now, and all were acquired at budget prices.
I purchase only small Japanese maples (with comparatively small prices; $20 to $30) in one- or two- gallon (4- or 7.5-L) pots, either from my local bonsai society’s annual spring sale table or from a few nursery growers. (One good place to look for Japanese maples of all sizes is Vineland Nurseries in Beamsville, Ont.)
With adequate care, maples grow quickly. Unfortunately, woody plants are often presumed to be capable of finding their own moisture, and left out of the irrigation schedule. This slows their growth and leads to disappointment—they survive, but are slow to put on size. Given afternoon shade and careful placement out of the west wind, good soil enriched with leaves and peat moss, and regular irrigation, small Japanese maples make strong root growth in the second growing season, and are established in the third year. (I also give them transplant solution with rooting hormone once every spring.) After the third year, trunk and branch growth move along quite rapidly.
Unnamed seedlings are every bit as interesting and worthwhile as named selections and cultivars, and I have some of both. Of named plants I have, the ubiquitous dark maroon ‘Bloodgood’ (A. palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, Zone 6) is now mature enough to make viable seeds, and occasional seedlings are worth growing on (although they may be unlike their mother). ‘Bloodgood’ is dark maroon-scarlet in autumn, and one of the hardiest; mine never has any winter dieback in Zone 6a. (It would be an experiment to grow it in a sheltered Zone 5b location.)
Another favourite is ‘Seiryu’ (A. palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’, Zone 6), a vigorous multi-trunk grower (about 18 inches/45 cm each year) with a vase shape and lacy green foliage. It’s the only upright tree form in the dissectum group, and has bright raspberry petioles in early spring as the lime green leaves unfurl. The autumn colour is vivid, almost electric scarlet. ‘Viridis’ (A. p. dissectum ‘Viridis’, Zone 6) is a shrub-form, lace-leaf Japanese maple, with pendulous extending branches and green foliage turning to a harlequin mix of scarlet, orange and yellow. ‘Viridis’ is another hardy plant with no winter dieback in an exposed Zone 6a location, and in my experience grows at nearly the same rate as corn!
Closest to my heart is ‘Aconitifolium’ full moon maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, Zone 6), which is tender and has lost some wood the past few winters. I give it a protected corner and baby it, because it’s too lovely to be without. Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s a beautiful obsession; Japanese maples grow quickly and last decades in the garden—and they’re not as pricey as you might think.
While trying to re-establish an edge on the lawn, I discovered one of the shrub-form Japanese maples had grown so far forward, the hostas in front of it have been completely overtaken. I haven’t seen them in a few years! It took some minutes to remember that they are Hosta plantaginea (Zone 3), with shiny, light green leaves and large fragrant flowers in August. This is a tricky hosta to grow, requiring full sun and a hot growing season to flower (and some years it won’t). But though unreliable, when in bloom the single flowers are large, pure white trumpets with strong perfume (like freesias), so they’re worth giving the right placement and hoping for extended warm weather. They probably would have been fantastic in last summer’s heat, and I really missed an opportunity. But I’m moving them out and perhaps next year I’ll see some blooms. There is a double-flowered hybrid, H. plantaginea ‘Aphrodite’, also worth acquiring, which needs the same light and warmth to flower.
Scented hostas that flower more reliably are available. Perusing a catalogue’s pages, I see: ‘Fragrant Blue’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Fragrant Dream’, ‘Honey Bells’, ‘So Sweet’, and ‘Sweet Innocence’. What’s in a name? I call it insurance!
Still blooming: ‘James Compton’ and Knock Out roses
The late, purple-leaved bugbane ‘James Compton’ (Actaea simplex [Atropurpurea Group] ‘James Compton’, syn. Cimicifuga ramosa [Atropurpurea Group] ‘James Compton’, Zone 4) is in bloom. This is an event! Most years the flower spikes with dark buds (looking like the antennae of some extraterrestrial being) are nipped by frost. But finally the white flowers are opening and have a wonderful spicy lemon fragrance. There was a single bee making a fool of itself around it all afternoon, as enthused as I was to see the flowers.
The Knock Out rose carries on with 17 flowers still open. This fluorescent-pink landscape rose is totally resistant to blackspot, and has another unique advantage over more elegant roses—Japanese beetles ignore it. This is probably because the poor thing is scentless; and I put it that way because I don’t see the point of a rose without perfume. On the other hand, all my perfumed roses have become lunch for the beetles. Soon Knock Out may be the only game in town. (Hmmm, I must give this some thought—I need a strategy.)
Once again, a pleasure having you at Garden Making. Hope to see you next week.