The “aristocrat of trees” as it has been called and the hands-down favorite of most  is the Japanese Maple. With its beautiful colored foliage and variety of sizes and textures it is a landscaper’s delight. Being popular also means being overdone in many cases and in my own garden I seek the unusual. My favorite Japanese Maple is the Autumn Moon which, at 8 x 12 ‘ is perfect in size for the small urban garden . It has striking large chartruese leaves edged in pink and is quite hardy compared to some of the more delicate Japanese maples which struggle in Chicago’s harsh winters. For extra protection I spray my Autumn Moon with “wilt-pruf ” , an anti-dessicant that coats the branches and helps prevent winter damage.

Above : Acer Shirashiwanum ‘Autumn Moon ‘

In my small Morton Grove garden I had room for just one small fruit tree and I chose the self-pollinating Asian Pear that is a dwarf at 8-12 ‘. It bears an abundance of crispy delicious apple-shaped fruit on 6-8 year old trees and it has beautiful Spring flowers and glossy leaves. They are also easy to grow. I spray them with a horticultural oil in late Fall/Winter to prevent insects and disease.

Blossoms of the Asian Pear

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Shinseki ‘ ( above ) is one of the best self-pollinating Asian Pear varities .

Magnolia Liliflora ‘Betty ‘

Another favorite small tree for the urban garden is the late-blooming Magnolia ‘Betty ‘, a cross between Magnolia liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’. It is rarely touched by late freezes because it blooms later in the Spring and it’s small size of 8-12 ‘ is also perfect .

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A customer walked into the tree lot at Gethsemane in Chicago one day with a photo in hand and when I asked if I could help him he showed me his bare front yard. ” Price is NO object he said – I have to have a front yard that will make the neighbors ask “what is that ?” So, something unusual to say the least. I have just the tree for you says I and pointed him to ‘Shishigashira ‘ aka “Lions Head ” Japanese Maple. His eyes lit up and I sold him an entire front yard landscape with ‘Shishi’ as the centerpiece.

With its larger leaves more crinkled and fuller than others, the Lion’s Head Japanese Maple makes a strong statement in the garden, as a small, upright tree with great character . If you are looking for a distinctive and impressive tree to add to your landscape this exotic specimen will be a dominant centerpiece in your outdoor space and bring strong, intense color every fall.

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