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Left: from top to bottom: Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’ (vine-leafed maple); Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (downy Japanese maple); Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’; Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them” John Ruskin, On Art and Life

Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (Full-Moon Maple) is a slow grower that provides excellent architectural interest

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• Words: Pam Richardson

Andrew Mills is nursery manager at Burncoose Nurseries and Woodland Gardens in Cornwall. The nursery won a Gold Medal at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, with acers as a central part of the display. Andrew has over 20 years’ experience in horticulture and looks after thousands of plants, shrubs and trees. Acers are among his favourites. “They’re so versatile,” he says. “They’ll fit into any size or style of garden, and just as much at home in a pot as in a woodland setting. Wherever you plant them they’ll provide architectural interest and colour throughout the year.” Andrew’s preferred variety is Acer palmatum ‘Scolopendriifolium’ (A. Linearilobum). “The leaves are very long and delicate; they turn from green to a soft yellow in the autumn. There’s also a deep purple version, ‘Atropurpureum’. “Another good choice is ‘Shaina’, low-growing, dense bush with bright scarlet foliage in spring, turning deep maroon in autumn.”

Andrew’s growing tips • Keep the soil moist at all times but never waterlogged, and mulch soil to keep moisture in. • Pot-grown acers should be kept well watered – twice a day in summer, if necessary. Make sure there is excellent drainage by putting crocks in the pot before planting. • Don’t plant in a windy site or frost pockets. Most acers are hardy but their young spring growth can be killed by frost or disfigured by wind scorch, especially fine-leaved varieties. • Prune lightly from late summer to mid-autumn by simply removing any branches that spoil the shape of the tree.

Photography: Gap Photos; Andrew Mills

plant hunters at the end of the 19th century. Landowners, inspired by an Anglo-Japanese exhibition held in London in 1910, grew them on their estates – Kew and Tatton Park still have fine examples. The older varieties have the most stunning leaf architecture and richness of colour. They thrive in most soils and are found naturally on the edge of woodland, where they benefit from the shade and shelter of neighbouring trees. Given the choice, acers will grow best in a soil that is acid to neutral, but most will tolerate some alkalinity and do well in a container of ericaceous compost. They partner most plants and to complement their architectural brilliance, surround them with acid-loving shrubs such as pieris and azaleas. For even greater impact, a shade-loving Fatsia japonica or a darker-leaved yellow sambucus are ideal. Their colour variety covers a wide spectrum, from fresh green to dark burgundy-black. Some have pink, cream and green mottling, others are splashed with bronze and gold or edged in red as they change colour in spring and again for their autumn crescendo. Leaf shape also differs widely, from the strand-like Acer palmatum dissectum to the rounded Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’. And it’s not just those fiery colours and graceful leaves that hold attention; look closely and you’ll see tiny flowers on the slender stems, to be followed by tiny winged ‘helicopters’ carrying seed. To get your own collection started isn’t difficult – varieties such as Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’, ‘Garnet’ or ‘Bloodgood’ are widely available. Others such as the new ‘Fujian Red’ may take more tracking down. But be warned: going in search of each of their jewel-like colours may become a gardening obsession.

Acers in your garden

Acer palmatum ‘Linearilobum’

Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’

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LandScape Sep/Oct 2013  
LandScape Sep/Oct 2013  
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