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The field maple
We have had a couple of mild frosts over the past week so we can assume that autumn is properly with us: further denial is pointless. Instead it is time to appreciate the turning leaves before they too have gone and we are left alone with only the evergreens to keep us amused.
Last year my autumn tree of choice was the magnificent liquidambar – I was actually quite bossy in my urgings. This year I have chosen a slightly more humble tree: the field maple, Acer campestre.
Acer campestre is our only native maple and has long been a stalwart of woodlands and hedges. This picture shows an unbearably ancient specimen, in a hedgerow. It has been laid more times than Xaviera Hollander over the decades; the trunk is extraordinary, both beautiful and slightly grotesque.
A smallish tree reaching only about 20m tall, the field maple has a bark as fissured as the face of W.H. Auden, with a slightly corky texture. The flowers are nothing much to write home about, being little greeny numbers that turn up at the same time as the new leaves, but the leaves are very fine. It is happiest on non-acidic soil.
There is one outside my office and the leaves are just beginning to turn a rather fabulous buttery yellow. This yellow autumn colour is often seen as a bit second division compared to its more spectacular cousins which are all flaming orange or the red of bloodthirsty sunsets. I beg to differ; it may not be drop-dead spectacular but when the rising sun glitters across the frosty, dew-spattered leaves, it is breathtaking.
A good tree for a slightly wilder part of the garden. It is also excellent for bonsai if you feel so inclined.
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