This has been the best year we have seen for autumn colour in a long while mainly due to a dry and sunny October. All trees and shrubs offer their own distinctive autumn hue, each contrasting or complementing the display of colour around them.
Probably the most dramatic of all trees and shrubs though are the Maples, which come in a wide variety of sizes ranging from small shrubs of just a metre or two in height to huge trees that would grace any forest. In terms of colour there are several green varieties to choose from but most display either some form of bright golden yellow or else a fiery-red foliage effect that will add drama and beauty to any garden.
You won't find Maples in the 'M' section of a plant encyclopaedia, as they will be in the 'A' section under their botanical name Acer. Of all the Acers the most dramatic just have to be the Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum.
The word palmatum refers to the shape of the leaf, which resembles the palm of one's hand and it is these large palm shaped leaves that add to the whole effect.
Some varieties are too large for the average garden, making excellent specimen trees for parks and greens but several make ideal plants for smaller gardens and can be restricted further if grown in containers. Two of the best are Acer palmatum variegata dissectum with its cut leaves giving a fern-like appearance, showing a wonderful multicoloured autumn display and its cultivar Acer palmatum dissectum Atropupureum with its purple foliage which has now turned a sensational crimson.
Japanese Maples tend to be quite expensive to buy but are a great investment adding form and drama to a garden. They can be lost to extreme winter weather (especially when young), so are best planted in a fairly sheltered spot. Some of the best I have seen are in Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire where they grow beneath the shelter of many other larger trees but still manage to steal the show!
PITCHCARE Gardening By Paul Thornton Head Gardener at Rugby School