Japanese maple

These oriental favourites are just oozing with autumnal appeal

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Appreciated in Britain for around 200 years, the deciduous Japanese maple Acer palmatum, in its best forms really comes into its own with spectacular autumn tints and colourful winter shoots. Relatively slow growing, shade tolerant with more than 1,000 varieties, this shrub or small tree can be grown in pots or in borders no matter what size of garden you have. The thin, elegant leaves have an incredible range of shape and form, from highly dissected to bold, simple outlines, further expanded through a range of tints and variegations that restrict vigour, further helping keep these decorative varieties small and compact. Equally fascinating, growth habits can be light and airy, dome-shaped, tiered to stiff and architectural.

Native to damp, shady forests of Japan, China and Korea, the tree is highly variable, and has been selected by Japanese gardeners for hundreds of years. It’s an important component of Japanese gardens, often shaped and clipped as an accent tree around a house. Shallow-rooted and easily trained, it became an important subject for traditional bonsai and other creative miniaturising techniques. Japanese maples were first introduced into the UK in 1820, when the country first opened to Western trade and quickly entranced gardeners in Europe, which they still do today. They prefer moist, organic, woodland soil in semi-shade, the foliage is easily crisped if allowed to dry out in full sun. In pots its best to use a general-purpose compost, with added John Innes, rather than heavy, loam-based types. Site pots in a shady spot and keep them regularly watered.