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Book Review: A Gardener's Guide to Growing Maples

A Gardener's Guide to Growing Maples,
by James G. S. Harris; Timber Press;
hardcover; 160 pages;
$30

The number of abused and ignored maple trees on public boulevards leaves the impression that this splendid genus of hardwood trees is without appreciation. But what gardener could fail to notice the sparkling shaggy bark of Acer griseum, the paperbark maple, against the snow in winter, or the lustrous red buds opening to chartreuse-gold 'moons' of Acer japonicum, the full moon maple, in spring? James Harris, owner of a specialist maple nursery in Britain, has gathered together the 125 species of maple trees to show us their fine characteristics, with emphasis on the garden-worthiness of each plant. His collection includes many intriguing small trees, such as the Shantung maple (A. truncatum) with small, rippled leaves and an open, lyrical form; the brilliant autumn colours of upright and cascading Japanese maples; and a flamboyant box elder (A. negundo 'Flamingo') with green, cream and pink foliage. The man loves maples, and so should we, because their elegant architecture, variety of sizes and ornamental attributes could be strong features in any northern garden. Predictably, Harris looks into the botany, habitat and origins of maples, but then happily digresses into their history (a digression that more garden writers should make), telling us the first maple introduced into England was the sycamore (A. pseudoplatanus), "called the dool or grief tree because powerful barons used its strong branches from which to hang their enemies." Now that's something to consider when selecting a tree.

Harris's book is one of the excellent Gardener's Guides to Growing series from Timber Press, distinguished by authors who know and care deeply about their plant subjects. He painstakingly explains the finer points of cultivation and propagation, including cuttings, grafting and growing from seed; how to plant, stake and prune; and what pests might dare rear their ugly heads. There's also a strong section on growing small maples in containers, a pertinent glossary of horticultural terms; and a list of related books on hardwood trees. One can only say, first: buy this book. Second: grow a maple tree.
-- Judith Adam

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