Who We are and What We Do

In 1985 my Mother, Nancy and her husband Don Fiers were exhorted by their friend and mentor, J.D. Vertrees, to maintain the nomenclature of the Japanese Maples, to keep the names straight. My mother described J.D. as a scientist. Defining and understanding the Japanese Maples was his life’s work culminating in the book, ‘Japanese Maples’ by J.D. Vertrees. It was the first definitive book in English describing the full range of these beautiful trees. J.D. taught Don to graft and helped Nancy to understand the basics of running a mail order business.

As he passed on his Japanese Maple collection and small mail order business to them, Mountain Maples, a Japanese Maple Tree nursery, was born on a mountaintop in rural Mendocino County, California. A community developed and the business grew. Marcy and Billi Miller, with her incredible knowledge of plants and his steady and consistent work, moved up to the mountain and committed themselves to the business fulltime. Will Emerson and his fledgling computer software business ‘Livelihood Technologies’ created the programs necessary to run the business and in the 90’s launched our first website with a full search engine for the Japanese Maples. All the while learning about the trees and keeping the names straight the love of the maples grew and more and more cultivars were introduced.

I am Patricia Smyth, Nancy Fiers’ daughter. In 1999 after selling my landscaping company of 15 years, I purchased a beautiful piece of property in Potter Valley, south of Mountain Maples, to join and expand the family business. With a milder climate and abundant water the maples flourished. Easy access extended our shipping season and the business grew. Tragedy struck our family in 2006 when my mother Nancy died as the result of a car accident. As we grieved we struggled to maintain the business and understand what was next. Don continued Mountain Maples for a brief period until 2008 when he closed the business. It was clear to me I was to continue the work my mother began.

My new business, ‘Essence of the tree’, was born. And we are growing again. With the help of the Maple community we continue to expand our inventory and knowledge. My sons Ian and Charles, by lending computer skills and customer service expand and improve our business to better serve our customers with excellent service and beautiful trees, true to name.

Over the last 30 years we have listened and learned from the large, ever expanding community of fellow maple lovers. From all the diverse climates and cultural conditions across the United States our customers have shared with us how the trees respond in different conditions. The world of Japanese Maples has expanded with a list of over 800 named cultivars, compared to J.D.’s list of 300 names. As the world of Japanese maples has expanded our commitment to the trees has grown to include understanding the nature of these trees as cultivars, their growth habits and cultural preferences. We are committed to growing the highest quality Japanese Maples with special care given to developing structure.

Understanding the needs of the trees and sharing that knowledge has become our work. My true passion is working with the trees as individuals, in container gardens. Here at ‘Essence of the tree’ we are developing an inventory of trees grown specifically for container culture. By selecting trees young with lower branches and using reduction pruning we develop a beautiful structure in a small tree. Growing the trees in containers allows us to participate in the life process with the tree more intimately, observing and responding to the trees. Knowing a tree as an individual for many years, from spring through summer and fall and the quiet of winter, year by year, is a privilege. As the tree grows, I grow. My understanding and appreciation of my larger community grows as well.