Japanese maples, come Autumn time, can give some of the most exciting displays as their leaves turn to bonfire shades. Many make excellent trees for the smaller garden and many are happy in containers too.
They prefer a little dappled shade – a more open site if they are kept well watered but not the heat of the midday sun. A sheltered site is a must, as the thin leaves can ‘burn’ in the wind, much as they would do in strong sunlight. Shallow rooted, watch the watering regime, especially for container grown specimens
Their fresh leaves in the Spring are often as showy as their late season displays and the tracery of the bare branches in winter are an attractive addition to the garden, requiring little, if any, pruning or intervention to achieve a graceful form. Some forms have coloured stems, or shaggy, peeling bark, so there is much to choose from.
There is an excellent book, now in its fourth edition, by Vertrees and Gregory, that is a must-read for the enthusiast. Specialist nurseries, like the one attached to the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire (where all these photographs were taken last year), will provide expert growing advice as well as a much greater choice – and larger plants too. Propagation is a tricky business and nurseries have to lavish a lot of time on new plants and of course, many are very slow-growing, so prices can be high compared to other varieties of small tree.
A visit to one of the great arboretums, where mature specimens are on show, is probably a good idea if you are looking at a significant investment or a larger specimen – Winkworth Arboretum is situated between Guildford and Godalming, the RHS Gardens at Wisely in Surrey too have some excellent examples. Westonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire has an astounding collection – a veritable woodland cathedral with living stained glass windows (but avoid the stupendously busy weekends if at all possible). Their website will give more information as to when the show is going to be at its best as this can change from season to season. They have a good Facebook presence too.