Do you suffer from Acers? I’ve got it bad, possibly a terminal case. No ointment soothes the itch, bandages will not ease the pain. The only cure is to acquire another specimen and then you end up repotting when they are dormant. When do precious babies get their beauty sleep? When it is cold and wet outside and all but addicted gardeners are tucked up warm indoors. After a prolonged session of re-homing I’m crouched over a keyboard trying to type with frostbite.
Primula vulgaris “Belarina series” (double primrose)
Some unusual varieties came from supermarkets in the autumn, bought when I was supposed to be looking for Xmas goodies. If a sapling costs no more than £2, I consider it mine. I’ll go up to £12 for a well grown example but I’m happy to purchase diminutive fancy sycamores, expecting to give them love, care and time. Bigger plants are often grafted onto a sturdy stock which you can spot by the bulge of the union, above soil level. In this case, be on the look-out for shoots from the roots which will subsume the more delicate scion, given the opportunity. The trees will not tolerate alkaline earth, cold wind, hot sun or incorrect watering; other than that, they’re easy to keep. Once you have the knack, they are subtle, sophisticated, intriguing and chic. Mine are indulged on the north facing wall of a sheltered courtyard. Favourites include A. shirasawanum, aconitifolium, dissectum and osakazuki. In February I seize the newcomers that over wintered in their original plastic shop containers and move them on to terracotta quarters in a concoction of compost, some grit and a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone fertiliser. Anything that has out grown its space also gets a change of abode. I top-dress those which are too big to shift with the same soil mixture. When the mood takes me, I lard them with well rotted manure. The whole lot gets watered and finished with a layer of pea gravel for a smart appearance, to preserve moisture and to deter weeds.
Acers en masse
Pruning is largely unnecessary; take out dead or diseased wood and crossing branches but don’t cut into green wood during active growth, as this will cause copious sap bleeds. Take essential remedial action from November to January but since we’re too late this year, just rub off dead twigs and leave it to do its thing, which will be naturally graceful without further fiddling. In summer I soak them once a week, whether or not there has been rain. I have failed with only one Acer; I was babysitting a rare type for my daughter Cineraria, while she moved house and killed it by drowning. The guilt weighs heavy on my soul, since I have been unable to find a replacement. This gives me an excuse to ransack nurseries, sales brochures, web sites and vague rumours, on her behalf you understand, not for myself.
Helleborus x hybridus “Double Ellen White” (Lenten rose)
Attractive pots are part of the fun, as they maintain interest levels when the resident is dozing through the back season. Some gardeners may sneer at such niceties but I think that Acers are about elegance, so I don’t go for patterned, clashing ceramics. Channel Japanese restraint and keep it simple. The filigreed foliage, refined form and explosion of fall colour is circus enough.