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1. Opposites attract

Koto-no-ito Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Koto-no-ito) behind Wissel’s Saguaro false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’)

The warm tones of Koto-no-ito Japanese maple are tempered by the rich blue green of the conifer

This is all about contrasts; lacy leaves and delicate branches juxtaposed with stiff spires of deep blue-green needles, and the wide dome shape of the maple against the columnar form of the conifer. Yet the two also work in concert  as warm colors of the maple are tempered and enhanced by Mr. Wissel (my pet name for this great conifer).

A unlikely pairing yet all the more beautiful for it.


2. Try the color-mush test

I’ve always loved blue toned conifers with red foliage and this combination shows how well the colors work together. I know the photo above is a rather ‘arty shot’ with the red maple in the background all fuzzy but actually that can be a helpful way to assess the basic shapes and colors without being distracted by the details. Try squinting to get a similar mushy effect.

Here’s the same combination photographed differently;

Now we can appreciate the fine foliage too. This Oregon Sunset maple (Acer palmatum ‘Oregon Sunset’) is quite short and so the rare low growing  Home Park cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani ‘Home Park)  has to grow in front rather than underneath.

You could get a similar effect using Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) under any upright red leaved maple such as Fireglow  (Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’)

3. Crayola combo!

What’s more beautiful than one Japanese maple? LOTS of Japanese maples! This glorious fall display celebrates the season in full technicolor with the aptly Crimson Queen (Acer p. ‘Crimson Queen’) in the foreground clearly the star. The vivid golden foliage behind is a Lions Mane maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’) while the orange leaves forming an overhead canopy are from a Forest Pansy redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)  and Iijima sunago (Acer palmatum ‘Iijima sunago’) on the upper left.

This autumnal extravaganza needs a place for the eye to recover and the two conifers on the left provide that quiet visual resting space to do just that. Simple fanned foliage of a bright green Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’) together with the spiky Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) needles are both great choices.

When the last of the leaves have fallen and we are left with only our leafy memories, the stalwart conifers offer color, structure and a promise of a repeat performance next year.

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