The magical allure of a Japanese maple and a cryptomeria

Photos courtesy of Penelope O'Sullivan.
Fairy Hair Japanese maple twigs and foliage.
Photos courtesy of Penelope O'Sullivan.
Cryptomeria japonica 'Rasen'

When I was a child, I believed in fairies, leprechauns, and other magical creatures. Now I’m all grown up, and in spite of knowing better, I still believe in my heart of hearts that fairies exist.

So imagine my delight when I came face to face with the proof I’d been seeking for decades. I was visiting Buchholz  & Buchholz, a wholesale nursery offering unusual trees and shrubs in Gaston, Ore., and came upon ‘Fairy Hair’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’). See first photo above.

This dwarf tree grows slowly, measuring about 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide in 10 years. But it’s not just the tiny size that makes this collector’s item delightful. It’s the long, skinny, straplike leaves that give the plant a super-fine, almost blurry landscape texture.

The company’s online catalog describes the foliage as green in summer, orange in fall, but when I saw some ‘Fairy Hair’ maples growing at the nursery during an unusually hot August, they were already turning their autumnal hue.

Talon Buchholz (photo No. 2 above), the nursery’s owner, discovered and introduced the plant, which grows best in sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. As for hardiness, he says, “It’s really shocking. I’ve got them planted all over and have never lost one. It’s like it’s too wimpy to die.”

The website says that ‘Fairy Hair’ is hardy to Zone 5.

To show off rare finds like Cryptomeria japonica ‘Rasen' [see photo at right], an irregular conifer with tightly recurved foliage that grows up to 20 feet high, Mr. Buchholz created display gardens throughout the nursery. Along with the gardens, named the Flora Wonder Arboretum, he put together a fascinating website.

“The arboretum is the top of what I have,” says the nurseryman, who started collecting trees in 1981. “The nursery makes money to keep the arboretum going and to keep adding new plants.”

Don’t expect the website to mirror what the nursery sells. “The arboretum’s website has photos of plants that I’ve seen. Maybe I have them in the arboretum, maybe I don’t. Maybe I used to have them and they died, or I no longer grow them for some other reason.”

Bizarre and unusual trees inhabit not only fairy tales and dreams, but also his Oregon garden. Touching the soft stems and leaves of ‘Fairy Hair’ Japanese maple and the hard sharp foliage of ‘Rasen’ Japanese cryptomeria stretched my mind and made me believe anew in the magical allure of woody plants.

Penelope O'Sullivan, who writes about trees and shrubs at Diggin' It, is the author of "The Homeowner's Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook: The Essential Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Maintaining Perfect Landscape Plants." She has a landscape design business on the New Hampshire seacoast. 

Editor’s note: To read more by Penelope, check our blog archive. For more Monitor gardening, see our main gardening page and our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We'll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer's blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.

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