Photo: Steve Bender

Years ago, I planted twin rows of coral bark Japanese maples on each side of the path in my side yard. Every since, when I gaze at them in fall, I thank the Big Guy I did.

I wanted a leafy tunnel to span a previously unused, empty space and connect my front and back yards. (Look closely and you can barely spy my red gazing ball in the back.) Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku') proved the perfect choice. Although it eventually grows 20 feet tall, its branches ascend like the ribbed vaulting of a cathedral's roof, providing room to walk through unencumbered.

I also wanted more than a one-season tree. Choosing coral bark maple was spot-on. (Does saying, "spot-on" make me sound British? Jolly good!) It gets its name from the coral-red color of its young branches and twigs. In winter, when every other deciduous tree is as drab as Christmas in a salt mine, this is what coral bark maple looks like after it snows.

emPhoto: jkeenan501/em

Speaking of snow, I know you're all begging for lots more snow and ice this winter. You got it! Grumpy loves his fans.

Sadly, snow and ice can't last forever. After they melt, coral bark maple unfurls cool, minty-green leaves. Unlike some Japanese maples, this one tolerates a good bit of summer heat and drought without any leaf-scorch. (I have never watered mine since the first year.) As autumn sets in, the saw-edged leaves slowly fade to a lovely soft yellow suffused with orange and pink. The color lasts for weeks.

emPhoto: Ralph Anderson/em

Coral bark maple likes full to partial sun and well-drained soil. Now is a great time to plant. It's available at most garden centers. Big trees are pricey, but there's no need to sacrifice your precious Botox. This tree grows quickly, so start with a small one. Then praise your sense and good taste.