Saturday, 5 May 2012

Up the Reds -

This tree captivates me more than any other. For 4 years I had searched for a really nice red maple (acer palmatum)  and while we had seen lots of 'nice but normal' ones we had failed to see the tree that stood out from the mass produced crowd. As is the way, when you actually stop looking so hard the tree just pops up when you least expect it and this is exactly what happened. We had gone up to the inlaws in Sunderland - which is great as its only 45 minutes from Willowbog - and for a change Mandy and her Mum had come along for the drive. You walk through the shop and into the nursery and we literally stopped in our tracks 2 steps in as a bright red acer was sat on the 2nd podium ! This was actually funnier (to me) than it sounds as I go to Willowbog for the rugged wilderness, high quality wild trees and chilly howling  wind (and just up the road for £3 you can drive the Kielder Forest rally stage - 12 miles of forest track, awesome !! ;-)  the entire surroundings inspire you to buy a weather beaten conifer or at a push a sheep grazed Hawthorn so to be confronted with a twisting, turning intensely delicate acer caught me by surprise.

This picture was from a couple of years before my story, and shows Peter deep in comtemplation wondering if it's going to be frosty that night, while sheltering my tree from a Northerly wind !

We all left the nursery that Saturday, (without the tree) but I was back Sunday morning as I knew this was the one - even Mandy said at dinner the night before " are you going back for it?" - she knew too.

The tree came back to Cornwall that weekend and here she is in June that year, 2011. Why did this one stand out ? - the taper in the lower trunk, perfectly flowing into wonderfull roots that evenly grip the soil. There are no ugly roots - no thick poking out or straight roots and no gaps where there should be roots. (The branches are very well placed as most of the lower ones were grafted into place too). This acer has come from a grower that took their time and did things properly to produce a high quality piece of material.

Which acer is it?
It almost looked too good to be a Deshojo - the leaves are very bright and very fine - but the tree is an incredibly well done graft of around 35 to 45 years old so is a 'true variety' tree from a high quality original stock plant of some description - either  Deshojo or a Beni Maiko were in the running in my mind 2011. The original japanese named varieties were strictly chosen from unusual seedlings and unique hybrids if they showed quite specific traits - maybe leaf colour, leaf shape, growth habit, etc and these few trees would have been the stock plants that made all others mostly via grafting or sometimes layers and occassionally cuttings.
I used to work with an acer 'creator' who worked all his life for Hilliers Nurseries trying to make new named varieties and it was a very lengthy process - made even harder these days as there are already so many existing ones. Over the years there can be dilution of a popular named variety as other silimar looking trees are used as stock plants, sometimes a seedling comes up looking about right and gets named etc and before long the variations within a variety are huge, making lots of confusion !

The tree was in a lovely shallow japanese cream oval but was drying out very quickly in Cornwall so I did a summer repot into a nice modern chinese unglazed large oval -  just combing out the roots a bit, no root pruning. The larger pot is because the plans for the tree are to grow it out a bit wider on the lower branches. Over the next few months the foliage changed through purple-ish, to green, to early autumn shades of orange.

First winter all the branches were wired and March the buds started expanding so the tree was whipped out of the pot and all the roots under the trunk base were pruned off so I could get the tree back down into the pot from the raised little hill it had grown itself onto. Now a little planning ahead with the repot so the tree does not get an uneccessary disturbance in a year or two - i have positioned the trunk quite a way to the right ready to balance the long branches to the left that will be grown over the next few years. The longer root run in this direction will increase the speed and strength of the branches above, while the moisture and humidity below will support the increased foliage.

Red acer variety traits
I've been looking into the actual differences between the named varieties in the red (coralinium) family as just about every red bonsai is labelled Deshojo and have now found a few clues  from the original definitions and descriptions
  • Deshojo has strong leaves that are 6-7cm long on 2-3cm petiols of rusty red brown, - New foliage was described as shrimp pink to red
  • Shin Deshojo was a new (in 1965) improved version with brighter colour and the ability to hold the colour for longer in spring - it is described as 'fire engine' red.
  • Beni Maiko is probably a very close relative of the Deshojos but the leaves are naturally a little smaller and appear much closer to the branches as the petiols are shorter at 1-2 cm. The give away in identifying Beni Maiko though is the leaves that form later in the year - they are often mis-shapen, sometimes strangely curved or rippled on their surface

Because of the hard root prune the bud expansion stopped and the tree remained static for about a month while new roots grew. Once the roots were recovered the leaves carried on opening during mid to late April

Later in the year the new leaves will show which variety this is - in the earlier picture with the Hawk moth some leaves look irregular on the surface, and coupled with the finer growth I think we may have a fine Acer Palmatum Beni Maiko, but if the leaves stay quite similar all year the tree points to Shin Deshojo - the age is about right as it was defined in 1965.

May 7th, 2012
May 17th, 2012


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