Sandy’s Garden ... Bi Ho or Bi Hoo?

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

When I was young, footloose and fancy-free – I made up these last two – I think a few of my friends’ parents had what was then called a maple tree in their garden.

Like many an older person, it may well be that my memory is playing me false and that I am mistaken. These were years before anyone had heard of garden centres, when the gardener went to a seedsman … in my parents’ case, Alexander and Brown, proprietors of the Scottish Seed House in Perth … and grew plants forward from seed or very small plantlets; propagated their own plants; or exchanged plants with neighbours and friends. There was no opportunity to visit a gardening supermarket and choose from the vast range of plants on display there.

In common with a great many other folk, Ailsa and I enjoy visiting the local garden centres, admiring their showy presentations and wondering if we have space in our garden for this or that beautiful - whatever. Fortunately for our bank balance, advancing years have brought a modicum of common sense; and we can often say to ourselves, “Don’t be silly; it’s beautiful, but we’ve nowhere to plant it and it might not thrive in our garden anyway.” But we had great difficulty in resisting temptation recently, when our eyes were caught by a display of gorgeous maples – or, as most people would call them now, Japanese acers.

We know that Japanese Acers thrive in our garden … the shrub’s common name is the same as its botanical name, so its common name is ‘acer’ and its Sunday name is ‘Acer’ with an initial capital letter … for we already have several well-established and perfectly happy members of different variants of Acer palmatum, which has been cultivated in Japan for centuries, with the first specimen of the shrub having been brought to England in 1820. Its name means, ‘the tree with hard wood (acer) with leaves reminiscent of a human hand (palmatum)’; and it comes in many different guises, virtually all of them attractive and decorative additions to any estate, a park or a garden.

The one which we admired recently was an Acer palmatum Bi Hoo, sometimes called Bi Ho, which the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) describes in these complimentary terms. “This gorgeous Japanese maple will provide year-round interest. The leaves emerge with a salmon flush in spring before turning yellow-green; then in autumn, they take on rich yellow and orange tones before they fall. Its golden yellow bark, which seems to glow in the winter garden, is the feature that stands out long after the leaves are fallen. Relatively compact, ‘Bi Ho’ will make a beautiful stand-alone specimen and can even be grown in a large pot.” Who could ask for anything more?

It grows best in partial shade in moist, well-drained neutral to acid soil - that is, soil with a pH of 7 or slightly less, pH being the number which identifies the acidity or alkalinity of soil, with 7 being ‘neutral’; that’s the favourite number for most garden plants. It is a slow-growing, deciduous shrub which will take something between 10 and 20 years to reach its full height of between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half metres, say between 5 feet and 8 feet in old money; its expands to have a fully-mature spread of similar size. It doesn’t like exposure to strong winds, preferring a site where it can enjoy some shelter; and I have found the shrub called the ‘Golden Coral Bark Japanese Maple’ by a specialist grower.

Well, our garden ticks all of these boxes. So what’s not to like about Acer palmatum Bi Ho or even Acer palmatum Bi Hoo? Maybe, on our next visit to this garden centre?