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Friday 15 December 2017

Maples provide autumn colours so sweet

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

The feathery leaf of Acer 'Beni Hagoromo'
The feathery leaf of Acer 'Beni Hagoromo'

Stay on top of those fallen leaves and keep clearing

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' yellow autumn colour all year

The maples are perhaps the most beautiful of all autumn leaf colourers.

Botanically known as Acers, maples are predominantly a Northen Hemisphere tree genus with only one species, Acer laurinum, coming from the southern Hemisphere. North America has a whole tourist season built around Acers and their autumn colours not unlike the Japanese and their cherry blossoms. Versatile, easy, diverse, reliable within the genus there are maples for every location. Maples give us some of our most magnificant large and small trees in equal measure most providing autumn colours so sweet they are the visual equivalent to the famous sap that eminates from Acer saccharum [Sugar maple] in late winter.

In Ireland our weather conditions are not particularly conducive to creating strong autumn leaf colours. Warm autumns and strong winds often deprive us of the best colours that many plants can provide. Maples tend to be a reliable exception, whether its the buttery yellows of the naturalised Norway maple [Acer platanoides] or the kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, pinks and yellows cast by the many Japanese Maple varieties [Acer palmatum].

Most maples have leaves that are beautful even in the summer months worthy of growing for that reason alone. Many are palmate meaning shaped like a hand although there are exceptions like Acer carpinifolium [ Hornbeam maple] which curiously has leaves that are just like a hornbeam tree [Carpinus betulus] hence the name carpinifolium. A small slow growing tree its leaves turn golden brown in autumn.

Another beautiful small maple with slightly unusual trifolioate, three pointed, leaves is the Paperbark maple [Acer griseum]. It not only provides scorching red and scarlet autumn colours but also has the most beautiful peeling bark that is cinnamon in colour. Possibly the best tree for a small garden available. When thinking of maples and small trees the aforementioned Japanese maples must come to mind and would severely challenge Acer griseums claim to best tree for a small garden claim. With so many cultivated varieties on the market it is virtually impossible to select favourites and the best, all are worthy of growing and every single garden should have one.

In attempting the impossible I recommend Acer 'Sango Kaku' as one of the easiest Japanese maples to grow with lovely orange and yellow autumn colours and coral coloured twigs prominent through out the winter. Acer 'Phoenix' has magnificant pink spring foliage turning green then oranges and reds in the autumn.

Acer 'Beni Hagoromo' has soft feathery foliage that opens red and is followed by orange and red autumn colours. Acer palmatum 'Seiryu' is an unusual Japanese maple as it is the only upright growing dissectum variety. Its autumn colours are red, orange spalshed across its leaves as if by Jackson Pollock. Acer japonicum also classed as a Japanese maple variety has a beautiful cultivar called Aconitifolium has very deeply lobed leaves and wonderful red autumn colours.

Acer cappadocicum [ Caucasian Maple] is a beautiful medium sized tree with the cultivars Rubrum and Aureum being the main varieties available. Rubrum has emerging leaves of blood red turning green then oranges in the autumn while Aureum has red leaves in spring turning yellow then to green/yellow for summer before becoming vivid yellow in October, a quite beautiful species.

Acer rubrum [Red maple] is another fine red scarlet autumn tree, the cultivar Red Sunset has particularly strong colours and an upright growth habit. If its a large tree you are after the best is probably Acer x freemanii 'Autumn Blaze' with deeply cut leaves it does what its name suggests and reliably produces fiery colours every year. I have one planted in memory of a friend in my garden and it never fails to awe and inspire.

Wexford People

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