Maple Garden in Ohio
A charming collection of dwarf Japanese Maples and bonsai in a small pocket of Zone 6 in Ohio.
John and MaryAnn Thesing live in a little pocket of Zone 6, in Ohio, where they've created a charming garden of dwarf Japanese Maples and bonsai. The Thesings explain how they transformed from indifferent to passionate gardeners over the years, as well as share some great photos of their garden in full splendor.
Our garden is located in Euclid, Ohio, and is featured on our city’s pond and garden tour. Our garden is on a small 50’-x-125’ residential lot, but we did not let the small space stop us from giving our garden a large presence with great use of space. We like to use contrasting color and texture in our garden. Because of the small space we like to use dwarf, rare, and unusual plants to give our garden a larger feel.
Our backyard is our outdoor living space, where we spend most of our time in the spring, summer, and fall. My wife is from the Bahamas, so I wanted our garden to be lush and colorful (but not tropical by any stretch of the imagination) to make my wife feel at home.
At night, our garden takes on a new life as lighting illuminates the landscape, giving many of the Japanese Maple leaves a translucent appearance.
My wife and I did not have any interest or experience in gardening until we bought our first home six years ago. We both worked in aviation at the time, so we originally were looking at condos because we did not want to worry about yard work when we were away from home.
But we decided a house featuring a blue spruce and ivy in the small front flower bed and a row of privet in the back for privacy located in a neighborhood next to Lake Erie would be a better choice.
We now have such a love for landscaping that many of the garden centers and nurseries in the surrounding 50-mile area know us by greeting us with a laugh and saying, “Oh, you’re back again! Do you even have any space left in the yard?”
Left: Weigela florida 'Fine Wine' bonsai
Video: Bonsai Artist
We live in a small micro-climate of Zone 6, several hundred feet from Lake Erie. We have success growing plants that will not survive 10 miles to the south in Zone 5. Because our garden is a four-season garden, we like to use plants that will give year-round interest.
Different plants steal the show depending on the season, including Japanese Maples 'Orange Dream,' 'Bonfire,' 'Autumn Moon,' 'Golden Full Moon,' and 'Shiraz' in the spring, and in the fall the colors of the Aconitifolium, Japanese Maple 'Green Cascade' (Acer Japonicum), and Jade Butterfly Ginkgo Biloba, just to name a few.
We use evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs with interesting structure or colored bark to add winter interest to the garden. Our garden is an ever-changing work in progress that varies during the changes in seasons or because of a “gotta have” nursery find that we rush home to plant and make it work into our landscape.
Left: Acer palmatum 'Baldsmith'
We did everything ourselves. Many of the design ideas were born out of cabin fever in the cold Ohio winter while we were dreaming of spring, as well as during countless summer evenings spent in our backyard on the patio with friends over dinner and wine, when I would suddenly have a landscape design idea run through my mind.
After our guests would leave I would tell my wife about my idea. The next morning we would find ourselves wrapped up in yet another landscape project.
Left: Weigela florida 'Fine Wine' bonsai in bloom.
Our garden is an ongoing work in progress. We knew nothing when we got started, and after many summers of moving plants around and expanding beds (and shrinking the lawn), finally, something just clicked and everything started to make sense. Our garden has been featured in our city’s pond and garden tour.
We have spent countless hours during the winter on the internet researching plants and making calls to garden centers to see if they could order plants that are considered unusual for our area. All too often we were told that it would not grow in Northeast Ohio (assuming we were Zone 5 and not knowing we lived in a small area of Zone 6).
Left: Acer Palmatum 'Orange Dream' Japanese Maple
This photo shows the tree's spring color, showing why it's named 'Orange Dream.' The bright orange leaves emerge out of florescent pink buds, then the leaf color fades into a lemon color with orange-shaded leaf margins. The leaves then slowly transition to a yellow-green transitioning into a lime-green by summer. Fall color is yellow. The bark on the trunk is a very unique green color, which contrasts the spring color and it also adds great winter interest.
'Orange Dream' will grow slowly into a 13’ upright, taller-than-wide tree, with dense floliage. If left unpruned, it will take on a narrow shrub-like form. I like to prune out some of the dense foliage in mid-summer to expose the green trunk and to allow air and light into the center of the tree. Using this technique will keep the tree looking like a specimen tree rather than a dense shrub.
Some of the challenges we face are small space, poor soil, and harsh winter winds. We used several varieties of dwarf plants and 30 different varieties of Japanese Maples to help overcome the challenge of having a small space.
I also feel that the varieties of leaf color, size, and shape of the Japanese Maples provide great contrasts in color and texture. Their graceful appearance and structure display great year-round interest. Their slow growth rate makes it easy to keep them to a desirable size and shape as Japanese Maples respond well to proper pruning.
Left: Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' Bonsai
The location of our patio in the back of our lot provides more privacy. The patio location provides a better view of the garden and a great view from inside the house looking out.
Also, by having the patio in the back, we could surround three sides with plants giving it a lush and private feeling. The location frees up more usable planting space along the back of our house.
We built up our beds using good soil to overcome the abundance of clay in the local soil. By building up the beds we can provide the plants with proper drainage and nutrients. A built-up bed also provides a good elevated stage and height for viewing dwarf plants, especially when looking from a distance.
A Northern cardinal is spotted in the garden.
We use the house and the original row of privet to provide shelter from the harsh winter winds off of Lake Erie. The more delicate plants are grown in the back yard, while the more rugged and sun-loving plants are planted in the front yard.