This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
(Prize Essay for Massachusetts Horticultural Society.)
(Continued from page 261.)
Let us look at a few of the varieties that may strike us as specially noteworthy. First, and perhaps most popular comes Acer polymorphum sanguineum. Its main attraction is the solid, rich red, or purple that dyes the leaf; otherwise it is simply solid and vigorous for an extremely dwarf tree. The sanguineum variety performs very much the same ornamental part among shrubs as the purple beech does among trees, with less shining lustre and more richness of hue. Surely I could not give it higher praise. Nearly related in appearance, and yet very distinct from sanguineum, is Acer polymorphum atropurpureum. The tints of its leaves are darker, and perhaps duller than those of sanguineum, but it has a taller, more picturesque habit and is better and more artistically suited for growing in pots or tall vases for interior decoration. We have yet to put in practice the extreme aptitude these Japanese maples have for room and window decoration during February, March and April. They burst into leaf, as it were, in a moment, and exhibit a refined and exquisite effect in keeping with the decorations of the most dainty boudoir.
In mentioning these varieties of Japanese maples, I must not forget the original species, polymorphum, which grows better than many of its varieties, and is only less exquisite than the best of its offspring. Indeed, though the prevailing color of its leaves is green, it often throws out sports of pink, yellow and white, thus illustrating afresh its erratic tendency, - that tendency which has enabled Japanese cultivators to display their horticultural ingenuity in perpetuating so many attractive varieties by skillful grafting. There are white variegated forms of polymorphum like albo-variegatum, and a beautiful crimped leaved kind, delicately shaded and tipped with rose. It has more or less of the white and yellow color of the last. Then there is versicolor of larger habit, and sharper, longer leaves, white and rose tipped. Reticulatum has light green translucent leaves, crossed with light colored lines, which give it a distinctly veined appearance. Polymorphum offers us weeping forms as well as dwarf forms, but most curious of all, are two or three cut-leaved kinds. The green palmatifidum is the simplest variety of the cut-leaved type. Not remarkable for peculiar color, the leaves are cut into a semblance of coarse lace; curious, weeping and graceful.
No more delicate weeping tree exists than these palmatifidum and kindred forms. After a slow growth for a dozen years, perhaps, these miniature trees begin to droop in long, sweeping folds. When the green becomes purple, as it does in Palmatifidum atropurpurem, Dissectum atropurpureum or ornatum, which are one and the same varieties (for dire confusion in catalogue names exists here), the effect is still more charming. In pinnatifidum and pinnatifidum atropurpureum the effect is even more unique, because, though quite as cut-leaved, its divisions are yet simpler and more elegant. Dissectum foliis roseo-pictis is fairly shred-like in its fine divisions, and in addition has a variegation consisting of pink, yellow, white and green. Strange to say, the apparently delicate narrow-leaved forms like roseo-pictis, endure burning suns better than the broad-leaved kinds.
All Japanese maples heretofore mentioned, have been of the polymorphum species, and indeed, polymorphum maples, with two or three exceptions, are practically the only Japanese maples we are able to obtain for the lawn. One of these I shall note now, and another when I consider new and rare deciduous trees. The maple I now propose to examine is Acer Japonicum, medium sized, with vigorous, splendid leaves. To me these leaves seem only surpassed among Japanese maples by those of its golden variety. Japonicum has bright green leaves, ridged and crinkled, and of solid texture. A special beauty of this variety lies in its flowers. They are long, pendant and pink, more striking in every way than those of the scarlet maple. Still, perhaps the most charming of all Japanese maples is Acer Japonicum aureum. Although a variety of Acer Japonicum, V is very different.
The leaves are rounder, and the lobes of the leaves smaller and less deeply cut. Nevertheless they are almost large for a medium sized tree, and in color most delightful. Rich, pure gold mingles here with faint suffusions of green, thus producing the most subtile and delicate variations of color on the same leaf. I should like to speak still farther of Japanese maples, but the claims of other new ornamental plants must have their turn now. Let us give our attention, therefore, to a brilliant cluster of flowers growing on a curve of one of the paths near the house, a path that winds down gently towards the gate. It looks, indeed, charming, thus situated on a slope of green, for it is a group of Azalea mollis. You may reasonably ask why speak of azaleas, even hardy azaleas, for, as a class, they are by no means new or rare, although, perhaps, excelled by no hardy shrub for exquisite color and other goodly qualities. Azalea mollis, however, is hardly an azalea in the ordinary sense of the term. It is, moreover, Japanese, and of recent introduction, as introductions go, for a new plant really ought to have ten or fifteen years to obtain a positive foothold on American lawns. The flowers are the chief attraction of Azalea mollis, as, indeed, they are of all azaleas.
At first glance they seem much like those of the hardy or Ghent azalea, only very much larger and more showy. On closer inspection, however, we recognize also a considerable resemblance to the rhododendron. The clusters are nearly as large as those of that plant, and the corollas are not unlike it in shape. But the color and texture of the flower mark it an azalea in the fullest sense. The color, indeed, is much deeper and richer, but it shows the same shades, salmon, pink, orange and scarlet. The question, of course, presents itself, why do not these azaleas take the place of all other hardy azaleas? Simply, because nothing choice in nature can have its place exactly filled by anything else. These Azaleas mollis, you will notice, are arranged in a group by themselves, and in a somewhat sheltered well-drained spot. They are liable, because they bloom very early, to have their blossoms destroyed by late frosts. While young, too, the wood is sometimes winterkilled. The ordinary hardy azalea, on the other hand, is surpassed by few shrubs in capacity to endure various exposures. Specimens of Azalea mollis are planted together en masse, because of their showy appearance.
It would be hardly fair to group them about the outskirts of rhododendron groups in the manner so effectively employed with hardy or Ghent azaleas. Seeking out more especially Japanese deciduous shrubs for the moment, we note, clustered in a retired corner, a little group of Daphne genkwa. Although by no means striking plants, they have a refined, quiet beauty that grows on one. They are slender and upright, growing with numerous long, downy twigs which, in early spring before the leaves appear, are garnished with violet-colored tubular, dainty-looking flowers rather less than an inch long. This plant seldom attains a height of more than three feet.
(To be continued.)