Last year, my son had his garden re-done. The heavy sleepers supporting the old decking had rotted beyond salvation and what should have been a quick repair job became a major undertaking that took all summer and well into the autumn. Long before it was practical to start buying plants, he discovered Japanese maples… and we spent hours, days, trawling through catalogues and visiting garden centres. He fell in love with several, but as established and well-aged trees, their price was astronomical. Then he got lucky… a beautiful sapling, with deep red foliage, a spiralling stem and a sensible price tag just seemed to be calling to him across the plant centre. We took it home.
I spent the rest of the summer desperately moving the potted sapling around the garden to stop it from scorching in the sun and, come autumn, chocking the plant-pot with heavy tubs to prevent it falling over in the winds.
We finally got it planted. The ground was well dug, plenty of drainage and even more manure went into the hole. By this time, the tree had suffered. Sun and wind scorched leaves were falling, leaving only bare branches behind. As winter set in, with an echo of childhood’s ‘are we nearly there?’, I was sent out daily to examine and report on the little tree’s progress, while its keeper vacillated between hope and despair.
But planting a tree is a long-term commitment. It requires love, attention and patience. You cannot make it grow faster than Nature intended, no matter how much care you lavish upon it, how often you feed it… or how often you send the house-hobbit out to look at it.
When the first, microscopic buds began to appear, he didn’t believe they would do anything. Being a gardener most of my life, I was confident that all was as it should be and, in a few months, he would see the results of Nature’s cycle. As the buds began to swell, just enough to catch them on the camera, I took pictures daily to show him how well the tree was doing. He was still worried and sceptical.
When the gales blew the fence down, he somehow managed to get around the garden in time to catch the falling fence and hold it above the sapling until I could get there and do a temporary repair.
When the first leaves began to unfurl, he was worried they were damaged as they did not emerge fully formed and beautiful, but screwed up, green and furry. When the sun warmed the little tree one day and all the leaves began to unfurl at once, he finally saw the rebirth of ‘his’ tree. Not fully-fledged, by any means. The leaves emerge green, just touched with a red that deepens as the foliage matures. The leaf casings are scarlet wings and tiny bunches of deep crimson flowers tip the branches.
It has been an exercise in patience and commitment, tending the tree, protecting it, hoping it would, eventually regain the beauty that had captivated him when he first spotted it, so many months ago, yet lacking the experience to have faith in Nature and my assurances.
Now, every day, he hangs on my shoulder and we walk round the garden to see the little tree. He knows the shape and hue of every leaf, watching as they begin to open and recapture their colours. He will sit on the earth and drink in its beauty, watching the play of light through delicate leaves that seem lit from within with all the colours of flame.