Oh, to be more like…the Camellia

At the moment, the fiery leaves of my Japanese maples are taking center stage in a garden that is otherwise withered and brown.

But there are two other superstars in my autumn garden right now:

Oh, to be more like these Camellias!

  • unexpected, but always welcome – for most of the year, these are unassuming, well-behaved, handsome shrubs. In late fall, winter and early spring when nothing else is blooming – they suddenly explode with glorious blooms.
  • intrepid – although the flowers look like they should be grown in a perfectly climate-controlled greenhouse, they’ll bloom under mantles of snow
  • luminous – the glossy leaves and blooms light up shady spots in the garden

Junks I Collect No. 7: Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum) are beautiful in all four seasons. With their many variations in size, shape, color, and texture, they can be arranged as you would flowers in the garden. The leaves can look like little stars or hands (hence the name “Palmatum”); others with more deeply dissected leaves can have a more thread-like appearance. The tiniest leaves are as small as a thumbnail. One of the greatest pleasures of having Japanese Maples is watching the leaves change color with the seasons. They come in a wide spectrum of greens, reds, dazzling fuchsias, glowing oranges, yellows, purples, and almost black. There are some fascinating leaf color variations like the Lily Pulitzer green and pink combination that you see in Higasayama. My favorite combination is green edged with a deep, moody purple. Sometimes the most striking color comes not from the leaves, but from the branches themselves. Sango Kaku and Beni Kawa, for example, have brilliant crimson branches. The most beautiful color can even come from the seeds. I once witnessed the breathtaking vision of a Japanese Maple hung all over with seedlings that looked like ruby red ballet slippers glowing in the sun. In the winter, when the trees finally lose their leaves, the structure of their elegant architectural branches is revealed.

I only have a couple Japanese Maples planted out in the garden. Most of them are in heavy blue ceramic pots that withstand freezing temperatures year after year. Mature Japanese Maples are fairly expensive plants to buy, but you can find them as bonsai starters for reasonable prices. (Check ebay)!

This weekend, my Head Assistant Gardener, aka my daughter and I embarked upon a mission to repot this Beni Otake Japanese Maple:

Step 1 – cover hole at bottom of pot with coffee filter to prevent soil from washing away

Step 2 – Have able assistant add soil to bottom

Step 3 – Transplant tree, then add pebbles and sempervivum (hens and chicks) to the base

Step 4 – Pose trees for a family photo. Say “cheese”!

I grow: Red Dragon, Higasayama, Beni Kawa, Orange Dream, Wou Nishiki, Shindeshojo, Beni Otake, Hanami Nishiki, Murasaki Kiyohime, and Chishio Improved.

I’ve tried and failed to grow Beni Maiko a couple times. I want to try again, because it’s a beautiful tree, but mostly because I love its name:  “Red-Haired Dancing Girl”!

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