Pruning for Betty. Japanese Maples, Topiaries and Bonsai

I got a text message the other day saying that the Japanese maples needed pruning. I had been expecting this so I shifted my schedule around, sharpened my Felco pruning shears, grabbed my camera and headed out.

Betty has been a special friend and client for a number of years. She has also been a landscaping mentor, teaching me to adhere to rather high standards of design, installation, and maintenance. I have been pruning her collection of Japanese maples for years—she must have twenty or more of them—and to my knowledge, no one but me has ever pruned any of them.

I had decided to do an article comprised of before and after pictures of the maples but things changed. Anyway, here is one of the before pictures.

I was thinking, "I've pruned this tree every year for a long time."

I was thinking, “I’ve pruned this tree every year for a long time.”

I worked on opening up the plant to show the lovely trunk and to allow light inside. When I got in there I found the rock work and mondo grass that we had planted years ago when the tree was small.

dissectum japanese maple after pruning

dissectum japanese maple after pruning

I’m not a purist, so if I’m wrong, tell me, but I think there are two main classes of Japanese maples—dissectum and palmatum.  They are named for the shape of their leaves.  Here is the leaf pattern of the dissectum.

This shows the leaf configuration for the "dissectum" Japanese maple

This shows the leaf configuration for the “dissectum” Japanese maple

The dissectum maples seem to be more weeping and not as tall in growth patterns. These plants are usually produced by grafting a piece of a dissectum plant onto the root stock of a palmatum plant. There are so many varieties of the Japanese maple that keeping up with their names is quite a task.  The palmatum plant usually grows taller and more like a regular maple tree except that the leaves are remarkably smaller and the trees seem to stay much smaller:

This is the leaf profile of a "palmatum" Japanese maple

This is the leaf profile of a “palmatum” Japanese maple

Pictured below is a palmatum maple that was pruned for years to encourage shape in the “finished tree. I’m not going to prune this tree any more unless it is to remove some sucker growth from the bottom or to remove a few low hanging pieces that might develop.

After years of shaping I'm going to back off on pruning this beautiful palmatum

After years of shaping I’m going to back off on pruning this beautiful palmatum

I was standing there admiring the large palmatum Japanese maple and trying to remember just how long ago it was that we first started working on it. That was when Betty came out and, with a big grin, handed me some pictures. One of them was of me pruning this tree in 1991.  Let’s see, 2013, subtract 1991—Wow, that’s 22 years! Check it out:

John the plant man pruning the palmatum tree in 1991

John the plant man pruning the palmatum tree in 1991

Well, this started me to thinking about some of the other pruning that I had done over the years. I decided to look around. Here’s a picture also dated 1991 showing me pruning a cameocyperus ‘Boulevard’ which is a wonderfully soft looking evergreen that is a bit difficult to grow.  I don’t know a common name for it other than “Boulevard.”

John Schulz starting a bonsai of a cameocyperus "boulevard" in 1991

John Schulz starting a bonsai of a cameocyperus “boulevard” in 1991

I took a nice picture of a bonsai collection arranged on an outside table. The tall plant in the center is the exact same Boulevard from the picture in 1991. To quote John Hartford, “My, oh my, how the time goes by.”

The Boulevard bonsai is the tall one in the center.

The Boulevard bonsai is the tall one in the center.

There are a lot of plants in this yard that are remarkable. I will include a couple that I enjoy. The first is a Japanese black pine that I have been pruning for probably ten years. This small garden shows off with a ground cover of a running sedum that I like quite a bit. It is bordered with nice rocks that hardly show any more.

Japanese pine ornamental topiary with sedum ground cover

Japanese pine ornamental topiary with sedum ground cover

The plant below is called a Torulosa juniper or a Hollywood juniper.  Its natural growth is sort of helter skelter and wild. We had this plant in a large urn for years and then decided to move it to the yard.

Hollywood Juniper or "torulosa" juniper pruned to topiary.

Hollywood Juniper or “torulosa” juniper pruned to topiary.

Thanks for visiting John The Plant Man.  Share it with your friends

Here are some related articles:

Pruning Japanese Maples. A how to do it article. Click here

Foundation planting with containers—another Betty project. Click here

And fixing a drainage problem with an ikebana flair. Click here

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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A FrontYardGarden Creation

I call it an “IslandGarden.” It is a most intense planting at the end of a cul-de-sac. The planting is bordered by the road on the front side, circled by curved steps and a driveway, and terraced with the best application of manufactured rock I have ever seen. I have watched this garden grow since it was planted about twelve years ago, enjoying the subtle changes made by the owners, Jos and Mary de Wit of Kingsport, Tennessee.

The garden starts in a cul-de-sac on the uphill side

The garden starts in a cul-de-sac on the uphill side

The landscape design was difficult to start with as the lot has a steady downhill fall from the edge of the cul-de-sac to the lake behind the house. A set of curved steps suggests a waterfall leading from the road to the front door and the retaining wall bordering the island becomes a mountain side. The featured plant in the island is a beautiful Eastern Redbud which Jos has been carefully shaping for years.

A "river bed" of steps leads down through the garden to the drive way.

A “river bed” of steps leads down through the garden to the drive way.

The planting of the island is a combination of wild and formal. The planting is varied and undulating. From the drive one notices Japanese maples, dwarf Norway Spruce, iris, and several perennial plantings.

A careful planting of different textures and sizes suggests a river bank

A careful planting of different textures and sizes suggests a river bank

The de Wits obviously treat this island like a Japanese bonsai garden. Every planting has been meticulously trimmed and groomed.  The following picture is a detail of the front of the garden from the road side. I admired the alstromeria (the pretty blooms in the center) and Mary said, “We planted them last year and enjoyed them. We didn’t know they would come back again. What a pleasant surprise.” I like the way the garden uses dwarf dianthus for a ground cover.

The plants add interest and a peaceful feeling that makes one pause and reflect.

The plants add interest and a peaceful feeling that makes one pause and reflect.

Jos has a time consuming job and he insists on spending a portion of his free time fishing. Whatever time is left over is spent in the garden, grooming and cleaning. I enjoy talking with him about his efforts. He always tells me that he doesn’t have much time for the garden but it looks to me like he’s being a bit over modest.

Jos modestly explains how things happen to "just look good"--not mentioning his work and care

Jos modestly explains how things happen to “just look good”–not mentioning his work and care

Of course, if you keep up with my writings, you will know that one of the things I appreciate most is the view of the landscape from the house. I love it when there is an ever changing picture on the wall that comes from nature shining through a window. Here’s the view from the breakfast room of the de Wit house.

A rear window creates an ever-changing picture on the wall using nature for the subject.

A rear window creates an ever-changing picture on the wall using nature for the subject.

I walked out on the deck to get a shot of the back yard.

A view of Fort Patrick Henry Lake. I love the way this yard morphs from the miniscule to the Grande.

A view of Fort Patrick Henry Lake. I love the way this yard morphs from the miniscule to the Grande.

Before leaving, I watched Jos take pictures of Mary using the garden as a background. Mary is going to give me a hard time about the corner of the garbage can showing in the picture but I think it adds a touch of humor.

The garden makes a good back drop for picture making.

The garden makes a good back drop for picture making.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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