Bonus seasons at Momiji-en / by Gwil Evans

Entering the second phase of autumn garden color

Seasonal recognition is especially important in Japanese culture. So much so that instead of just the traditional four seasons, they recognize and celebrate 12 different ones. I’ve found that this works for Momiji-en as well. Each season has early, mid-, or late-seasonal character and timing.

Japanese maples Acer palmatum 'sango kaku' surrounding the tea house

Autumn is here and we’re just into what I have come to recognize as our second sub-autumn season. When the UK visitors toured Momiji-en early in October, I pointed out to them that they were witnessing the first of the sub-autumn seasons or “pastel autumn.” The trees had their first signs of color change expressed by pale pinks and subtle oranges.

Detail: Japanese maple Acer palmatum 'sango kaku'

We are now in the second sub-autumn season or “most colorful” autumn period, where the majority of maples in the garden are showing their peak autumn colors. This is the timing for the greatest diversity of color from the many maple cultivars and supporting plants in the garden.

Japanese maple Acer palmatum dissectum 'viridis' in inner tea garden, or uchi roji

In a week or so we will enter the third sub-autumn period or “autumn finale” where the final maples waiting to turn will show their colors. Some of these are the most brilliantly colored of all our autumn trees (saving the best to last?).

Detail: Japanese maple Acer palmatum dissectum 'viridis

Momiji-en has more than a dozen cultivars of Japanese maples in the garden and each has its own timetable for fall color. First to color and then lose its leaves is Acer palmatum dissectum 'ornatum' (the one we call “Mary Abbott”), followed quickly by the other laceleaf maple cultivars.

Detail: Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson queen'

The last to lose their leaves will be the three Acer palmatum 'shishigashira' or "lion’s mane" maples. They haven’t even begun to change from their summer dark green but should begin soon. Usually by the second week of November, these become the overall most vibrantly colored trees of autumn.

Detail: Acer palmatum (greenleaf)

Most leaves will have fallen by early December when we then approach the first of the three phases of winter.

Detail: Acer japonicum "green cascade full moon'

In relation to our maples, one of the most interesting of garden phenomena that we observe is “first to fall, last to leaf out.” For each cultivar, this is affected by location, temperature, and sunlight.

Detail: Acer palmatum dissectum 'koto no ito' (strings of the koto)

Another observation we’ve made is the maples will lose their leaves and leaf out again in a particular order. This order stays the same year-after-year although it may shift slightly on the calendar due to changing annual weather patterns.

Detail: Acer palmatum dissectum 'Everred'

I made all of the maple images shown here on one day, October 25, 2016. Enjoy!

Chamaecyparis (Hinoki cypress) backgrounded by various maples in the tea garden (roji).

Visit the “Seasons” page to see a wider variety and more complete array of plants and trees that add to the colors of autumn at Momiji-en, Autumn 2016.