In 614 A.D. a Japanese book of poems called Man-Yoshu repeatedly referred to the romantic beauty of Japanese maples. Three centuries ago plant collectors from the Far East and Europe were scrambling up cliffs, and hanging from ledges in search of the ultimate Japanese maple. Devoted gardeners hosted viewing parties to share the beauty of their magnificent fall colors. In 1898, Yokahama Nursery produced an illustrated catalog of Japanese maples for export to Europe and the United States. Nearly two hundred varieties were beautifully sketched. Today, the interest in Japanese maples flourishes with a new found excitement for these gifts from nature, and Autumn Hill Nursery and Garden Center brings them straight to you!

Their beauty is simply impossible to ignore. Bold and unusual leaf colors change throughout the seasons. Diverse leaf shapes include delicate strands, crinkles, curls, and bold fan shapes, wider than your hand. The trees themselves can be low and sprawling with gracefully cascading branches or upright and stately with an open airiness to them. Japanese maples have continually inspired artists of every medium from poetry to drama, from novels to paintings.

Japanese maples often elicit emotion. The subdued colors and open branching of ‘Bloodgood’ in midsummer is calming, while the shocking pumpkin orange fall color of ‘Hogyoku’ throws you back three feet. Study the exposed intricate branching of a ‘Waterfall’ maple in winter, and you are mesmerized. Many of the original Japanese names reflect these emotions. For instance, ‘Shigitatsu sawa’ roughly translates to “even with a vacant heart, still I feel the pangs of beauty”. Wow!

As coveted as they are, many varieties of Japanese maple were lost during World War II. Old specimens were burned for heat; complete gardens were cleared to make room for crops. Spectacular gardens throughout Europe and Japan were destroyed. It is estimated that there were over 300 named varieties. Today, the number is growing, but there are still fewer than the years before the war. Many of those lost varieties will never be reproduced.

All these colors, shapes, and sizes are the result of the species’ ability to easily mutate, and produce unusual offspring. This wide range of characteristics broadens their appeal and usefulness. A Japanese maple can probably be found to fill virtually any landscaping need. With some thought and imagination, you’ll soon see where they can be used as specimens above rock walls or filling a pocket created by your house and sidewalk. They can be tucked in a perennial garden or accent a display of roses. Weeping varieties can drape over ponds and walls. Upright varieties can help close in a courtyard or patio, making the setting feel more intimate. No room to plant in the ground? No problem, as all of them can thrive in a container provided it’s large enough to sustain their roots.

When you are visiting the nurseries this spring, be sure to spend some time with the Japanese maples. Think about their history. Imagine how the gardeners who cut their prize trees for firewood felt. And of course be glad you didn’t have to ascend rocky mountainsides to get your own. Whatever you do, don’t leave either our Canton, GA or Woodstock, GA location without one. You deserve nature’s equivalent of a Van Gogh in your life.

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