Hands up: I admit it, this is another post about a plant at Mount Congreve. Japanese maples in general are plants that I could only dream about when gardening in the east of England. But here in Ireland they grow so well that they are a feature of almost every garden. The most popular species is Acer palmatum and there is a huge range of cultivars of every conceivable size, habit and leaf colour. Of course, no matter how they look in summer, they keep their powder dry for autumn when they put on one of the brightest fiery spectacles of autumn.
Less well known is the full moon maple, Acer japonicum. This small tree is slightly easier to please but still prefers a moist, humus-rich soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5 (acid to neutral). Typically the leaves are rounded and the leaves are cut into ‘fingers’ no more than one third of the way down the leaf. The species itself is not often seen and it is usually represented in gardens by ‘Aureum’ which has bright yellow leaves all summer. It is slow growing and extraordinarily beautiful. But my favourite form is ‘Aconitifolium’ This is named because it has leaves like an aconitum and they are deeply lobed. The Japanese name means ‘dancing peacocks’ – and the leaves certainly do look like the fan tail of a peacock. It is at its vibrant best in autumn and it certainly vies with the rest of the best for the accolade of best autumn colour. The leaves are usually transformed into clarets, purple, crimson and gold.
But I was really taken by this planting that accentuated the summer leaves of the acer. This ingenious bit of planting finds it next to a rhododendron (azalea) with flowers the exact shade of the petioles (leaf stalks) of the acer. Clever and very effective.