Japanese Maples with special history planted at President’s Home

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Two Japanese Maples planted this week at the President’s Home have a special history.

Auburn University’s First Lady Janet Leath has been raising them since they were seedlings. In fact, when the Leaths lived in central North Carolina, she created her own botanical garden, what she called a “beautiful oasis” at their home outside of Raleigh. In 27 years, Mrs. Leath had cultivated more than 60 varieties of Japanese Maples.

When Steven Leath became president at Iowa State University, Mrs. Leath took some of her plants with them, carrying the seedlings in pots.

The Leaths spent five years in Ames, Iowa, where some of the trees were planted. The rest accompanied them to Auburn in 2017. Mrs. Leath said the two trees planted could have continued to receive her care while in pots, but instead they chose to plant them on the grounds of the President’s Home.

“We wanted to do this at Auburn,” she said. “We thought they would add to the legacy that Coach [Pat] Dye and others have contributed to this property.”

Dye, Auburn’s legendary former football coach, grows Japanese Maples on his property, Quail Hollow Gardens, in Notasulga, Alabama. Many of his trees can be found around campus, including the President’s Home. The university is home to more than 8,500 trees. Auburn continues to be recognized for its commitment to promoting healthy trees and engaging staff and students in conservation efforts, recently earning the Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation for a 10th consecutive year.

Justin Sutton, the superintendent for the university’s Landscape Services department, said it was a joy to work with Mrs. Leath on planting the newest trees on campus, adding that “The location of the trees coexists well with the current landscape at the president’s estate and will also complement any future plant installations there.”

One of the trees from the Leaths is a Seiryu Japanese Maple. The other is an unknown variety. Mrs. Leath said its leaves resemble the Seiryu, but its trunk could be that of a Germaine’s Gyration, as the inner branches swirl around the main trunk in different directions. The Seiryu will grow upright, while the other tree will likely spread lower to the ground.

Both were planted on the north side of the property, adding some degree of symmetry with existing Japanese Maples on the south side. Guests to the home will certainly notice and appreciate them, as will the Leaths.

“I wanted to see them and enjoy them,” said Mrs. Leath.

Mrs. Leath said she will personally continue to care for the two trees. Both the Leaths are “plant people.” She earned a bachelor’s degree in plant science at the University of Delaware, where Dr. Leath received his master’s in the subject. Her interest in plants likely started when she was a teenager, growing up near an arboretum on the south shore of Long Island, New York.

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