Japanese Maples and Other Fabulous Foliage

Clive Mellor, from Charleshurst Farm Nurseries, on small trees and shrubs grown for their wonderful foliage - 31 March 2017

The foliage of a tree or shrub can often give as much colour and interest as a flowering plant and amongst the best foliage trees are the Japanese Maples. Ranging in size from low,spreading and weeping mounds to small to medium-sized trees,they provide form and colour in any garden,whether growing in a container on a patio,adding colour and interest to a shrub border or perhaps grown as an individual specimen in a large garden.

There are a huge number of varieties of Japanese Maples grown.The term ‘Japanese Maples’ covers a number of species but perhaps most notably Acer palmatum. On our nursery at Charleshurst Farm we grow a selection of these lovely trees and here I am just going to mention one or two that we consider to be amongst the best.

Acer palmatum ‘Ariadne’ Making a small tree,at its optimum height about two to three metres with a light,spreading canopy. The new growth, as it develops, goes through shades of pink to bronze yellow and eventually becomes a soft mauve-purple, lovely Autumn colour too before the leaves drop in November.


Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ Absolutely stunning pink/red new growth that matures to green during the Summer but still with new pink foliage tips. Height to around two metres with a typical Japanese spreading shape.


Acer palmatum ‘Skeeters Broom’ There are plenty of good varieties of purple leaved Japanese Maples and many gardeners are familiar with Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, but for a more compact grower with a really good red/purple foliage ‘Skeeters Broom’ is hard to beat. A height of four to five feet (120-150 centimetres) makes this a good specimen for a pot or certainly a lovely small tree in a border.

Acer palmatum ‘Senkaki’ (Sango-Kaku) Lovely foliage again,the new growth being apricot orange turning to soft green in the Summer,a lovely contrast to the bright pink/red stems which also give a good display in Winter after the leaves drop.

Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Garnet’ The dissectum group of Japanese Maples include many which are weeping and mound-forming and this variety makes a spreading mound of feathery,glossy,red-purple foliage up to about four feet (120 centimetres) in height. Very similar and perhaps equally good is ‘Crimson Queen’, both of these also have wonderful clear red Autumn foliage colour.


Japanese Maples are reasonably tolerant of soil type but don’t like lime so a neutral to slightly acid soil is ideal. If possible choose a position avoiding a windy site. A soil that retains moisture without getting waterlogged is ideal. Growing an Acer in a pot is easy,just use ericaceous compost in a good size pot with good drainage and site your Acer in a sheltered position,a certain amount of shade is fine but not deep shade. Be careful not to let your Acer dry out in a pot or while its establishing in the garden as this can lead to browning or scorching of the foliage.

Liking similar conditions are some of the choicer species of Cornus and deserving a special place in the garden is the spectacular ‘Silver Pagoda Dogwood’-Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ (‘Variegata’). The tiered branches are hung with delicate, brilliantly variegated cream and green leaves to give a spectacular display throughout Spring and Summer. The ‘Wedding Cake Tree’-Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ also has tiered branches and strongly variegated white and green leaves but the leaves are bigger than Cornus alternifolia and the tree itself is larger,needing more space to allow the tree to reach its full potential.



Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’

Bract producing Cornus kousa can also be included here. These lovely trees not only produce large and colourful leaf bracts usually from May to July but often also have an abundance of colourful fruit in the Autumn along with excellent Autumn foliage colour. There are many good varieties available but one that we have found recently is Cornus kousa ‘Bodnant’ that has particularly large white bracts which continue well into the Summer and this variety is also noted for its production of a profusion of Strawberry-like fruits in the Autumn. Two other excellent varieties are:- Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’ has bracts that are white with strong pink tinges. Cornus kousa ‘Goldstar’ has white bracts but also a blotch of golden-yellow on the green leaf growth.

Another tree,spectacular in the Spring with stunning pink and white variegated new growth is Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’. Quite upright in growth and quite vigorous once established this tree makes a wonderful splash of colour with a background of woodland.



There are many good foliage trees but I would also like to mention here a couple that are spectacular for the size of their leaves,one of these that is reasonably well-known is the Foxglove Tree- Paulownia and we grow the species Paulownia kawakamii. If left alone this tree is fast-growing in a reasonably sheltered position and after a few years will produce a spectacular display of blue/mauve flowers in the Spring. However if this tree is cut back hard then the large round leaves become even bigger and often more than two feet (60 centimetres) in diameter.

Another tree that can be treated in the same way is the Japanese Raisin Tree- Idesia polycarpa and again,if left alone this tree will eventually flower with scented yellow blooms in profusion. The large leaves, heart-shaped and glossy green can again be much bigger if the tree is hard pruned.

These are just a few of the range of unusual and interesting trees and shrubs that we grow at Charleshurst Farm Nursery and we hope to have these and others available at the Rare Plant Fairs that we will be attending. 

Clive Mellor owns Charleshurst Farm Nursery in West Sussex, specialising in unusual shrubs, small trees and herbaceous plants. Please visit www.charleshurstplants.co.uk for descriptions, pictures and prices of all the plants they grow