A Kabuki for all seasons

A Kabuki for all seasons

A Kabuki for all seasons

A few years back, on one of many trips to Japan, I sat in the Kabuki-za. In 2005, UNESCO added this theater to “The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”

I’d been there before to watch exotically beautiful, vividly colorful plays explode on the stage in an art form that dates back to 1603 (Shakespeare’s first play, “Henry VI: Part I,” was staged just 14 years earlier).

Kabuki performances usually last four hours or more. Long running, yes, but I never grow weary of watching it. I feel that same way about gardens: long running, inexhaustibly beautiful, vividly colorful, explosive and interesting.

About midway through last month, I looked across the street to my neighbor Virginia’s house. She’d added a new Japanese Maple to her garden. The tree had, quite suddenly, taken on its autumn color, the most fully saturated and brilliant red I’d ever seen. I was riveted and dazzled — Kabuki-style.

Virginia’s garden had been remodeled a year earlier under the direction of landscape architect Scott Mantz.

I called Scott: Here’s where the plot gets Kabuki-esque.

Now, well into his career and (I’m guessing) about 60 years old, Scott was an energetic, 19 year old kid, who worked with the crew that installed the entry garden that still welcomes visitors to my house on McGilvra Boulevard. Smart, friendly, upbeat, excited about horticulture, Scott enchanted our entire family.

In the years that followed, I often recommended him to people seeking a landscape architect to design and install a garden; he never disappointed.

He’s popped in and out of my life since, often with his lady love and his dog Panda in tow. Always growing, but never changing, he is, to me, the same infinitely cheerful, get-it-done, life-loving kid I knew in 1978.

“So what is this tree?” I asked Scott. He told me: “Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki,’” then added, “Great Japanese Maple form, will get 15, maybe 25 feet tall in time. It’s long lived, tolerates wind and some drought, takes full sun with no leaf scorch. Best of all, those leaves, even at their most spectacular, hang on in autumn, much longer than do the leaves of most other deciduous trees.”

Now into November, the tree is still ablaze. This Japanese Maple has it all: city garden scale, abundantly clothed in bright green, seven-lobed serrated leaves in summer, statuesque winter form preceded by a splendid display of autumn color.

My recommendation is simple: Find or have your nursery order an A.p. “Osakazuki”. You’ll find a place to grow it, perhaps even a very large container. It will be one of the show-stopping scenes in your autumn garden.

In the ground it will thrive in our rich acidic soil. See that it has good drainage. Plant it where you’ll not disturb the root zone once it is in the ground. You need to prune it only sparingly to remove dead wood, crossing branches and errant, cow-lick shoots. And while this plant is known for its drought tolerance, water it well through the dry season.

I look across the street at Virginia’s Japanese Maple and my mind wanders: I’m in Tokyo watching a play. The lights dim. The gentle mumble in the crowd goes silent. The story begins. A young samurai happens upon a farmer and helps him plant his crop. The farmer is grateful and spreads the word of the samurai’s good deeds.

The seasons come and go; children are born and grow. Wind and rain, cold and sunshine, bring the challenges and gifts of life and nature. The farmer grows old.

In the background, as the kotos plunk a melancholy song, cherry blooms open and fall, leaves unfurl, then turn red in the stage light before dropping. The first snowflakes blow across the stage behind the farmer. Then one day he looks out to see that the samurai has planted a tree where he can see it from his window.

It has ignited in searing autumn color. He smiles wistfully, knowing he will look forward to each autumn until a gentle winter besets him and he snoozes into eternity. Art imitates life. Could anything be more Kabuki?