[caption id="attachment_173953" align="alignright" width="300"] Next year will mark four decades of marriage and maples for Nancy Parra-Ash and Thomas Ash.[/caption] Beneath an emerald ceiling of loblollies, at the end of
Beneath an emerald ceiling of loblollies, at the end of a one-lane road carpeted with copper pine needles, Mattie, a calico cat with golden eyes, hides under the branches of a Japanese maple. She steps out to greet gardeners Nancy Parra-Ash and Thomas Ash, who have come to tend to their trees.
Situated just north of Wilmington, Ash’s Japanese Maple Nursery showcases two acres of spectacular living sculptures that are nearly half a century in the making. In the fall, the trees deliver a brilliant show of scarlet, orange, crimson, yellow, and purple foliage.
When the couple met in 1983, Thomas was an avid bonsai hobbyist with a collection of more than 100 miniature trees. The couple’s mutual love for bonsai, the ancient Japanese art of growing and shaping dwarfed trees in containers, inspired them to start their own nursery later that year in Hampstead, where they grafted and eventually shaped full-size Japanese maple trees. The Ashes are known for a “weeping” variety called dissectum; because of the way the trees grow, Thomas is able to shape them into what look like large bonsai. “People are attracted to our trees because they don’t find this style anywhere else,” Nancy says.
The Ashes’ trees have been purchased and transplanted across the state, from the Botanical Gardens at Asheville to the New Hanover County Arboretum, and in private gardens from Greensboro to Roanoke Island. About 50 sculpted, mature Japanese maples still grace the nursery, and in their semiretirement, the couple has decided to keep some of the trees as a small arboretum of their own. Each fall, when their leaves drop, the beauty of the bare, gray trunks and limbs — the result of the Ashes’ bonsai mastery — is revealed.
For directions or more information, call (910) 270-4723.