Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

The Best Season Ever: The Mature Contorted Beech

Time flies when a garden is a celebration. This was a dinner party for the editor & crew of Design New England Magazine way back in 2008. To the right of the giant galvanized tripod is some generic bulky leafiness: a contorted beech planted as a youngster in 1999, and extremely happy ever since. That evening in 2008, its tippy-top leaves were already as high as the roofline of the house.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa 082608 DesignNERaymondParty 915

 

It's now ten years since this party—and nearly twenty since the beech was planted. How the tree has grown! Toggle with your eyes between the pictures above and below. Ten years ago, the canopy hadn't yet extended leftward as far as the near wall of the house. Now, like a tsunami, it has flowed right past that wall, then past the nearest second-story window of the house. It will soon be in direct view of the middle window.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa over the market umbrella 081918 915

 

In the picture below, you can see how high and wide the canopy has become. Not only does it crest above the roofline, it has extended out over most of the canopy of the market umbrella. And that's no small umbrella: It's side-to-side coverage is ten feet. 

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa overall 081918 915

 

What isn't quite clear in the picture above is how little of the canopy of this Fagus sylvatica 'Contorta' is centered over the tree's trunk—and that almost none of it extends to the right of the trunk. In the picture below, you can see that the canopy is nearly all to the left of the trunk. It's a giant cantilever of growth.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa trunk showing cantilever to lally columns 081918 915

 

This imbalance is intentional: The long screen of espaliered lindens sweeps past the beech just six feet to the right of its trunk. The lindens are barely discerneable as the lighter-green dense leafiness at the right of the picture; the espalier is about eighty feet long, and extends outward, perpendicular to the side of the house being obscured by the beech canopy, along the south boundary of the garden.

 

Here's the view out into the garden, with the linden espalier now the left and the beech trunk to the right.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa 081918 with Tilia cordata Winter Orange 915

 

Beech trees are famous for the stability of their heavy, cantilevering limbs: Their wood is unusually strong, and so can span impressive distances without much sagging. Even so, if all the limbs were on one side of the tree, as here, there would be a real danger of toppling if, say, the limbs were thickly coated by a winter ice storm. Then, the tree's roots wouldn't be able to grip the ground extensively enough to counterbalance the weighty cantilever.

 

Not to worry! Two lally columns are permanently supporting major limbs of the beech. The shot below is taken from same vantage as the one above: looking out into the garden from the beech, not in toward the house. One lally column is visible at the far right; the other is almost hidden by the slanting trunk of the beech.

  

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa trunk to lally column 081918 915

 

Each lally is about eight feet from the trunk; they are about eleven feet apart. Together, then, the trunk and the pair of lallies form a triangle. The trunk anchors one side of the canopy to the ground, while the other side of the canopy cantilevers about sixteen feet past the lallies.   

 

Below, the triangle of lallies and trunk. The mass of the trunk, plus the older, thicker portions of all of the tree's limbs, plus the in-ground anchoring of the beech's roots, all combine to vastly outweigh the cantilevered portion of the canopy, whether coated with thick ice, or fluffed with seasonal foliage. Remember, also, the exceptional "span strength" of beech wood. The entire tree won't tip, nor would individual limbs snap at this length—sixteen feet past the lallies—no matter how much they were weighed down by heavy ice. And the lallies themselves are normally used for structural support in buildings. They won't buckle under the weight of mere beech limbs. 

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa supports trunk 081918 915

 

Here's a lally's-eye view of the cantilever. In the decades to come, how much farther could the limbs extend? 

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa lally column top 081918 915

 

In the picture below, you can see the first tip of beech growth that has already extended beyond the umbrella.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa just to the far side of the umbrella 081918 915

 

Because the support that the lallies provide "reassures" the tree that its canopy is stable, and that the limbs haven't cantilevered too far, the limbs will keep right on growing. (When lateral growth is unsupported, the tree is able to sense—possibly by the increasing sway and sag of longer and longer growth—that the maximum supportable extent is near. Then lateral growth slows or even stops.) In time, then, these supported limbs will lengthen far beyond their normal unsupported range.

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa just to the far side of the umbrella 081918 detail 915 

 

In only three or so years, this stem tip will very likely have lengthened four to five feet. This will place it over the front edge of the bed to the left side of the terrace. The beech canopy, then, will have become terrace-wide.

 

I may add another lally column in that bed, but not so that growth could continue even farther to the left: I have all kinds of sun-loving plants in that bed. Here's the picture of that bed again. It needs to remain in full sun, so I'll prune any beech limb that does reach it so that it keeps just a supporting "toe" in that bed. That toe would be on pointe, as it were, atop the third lally. 

 

Fagus sylvatica Tortuosa lally column top 081918 915

 

The ultimate span of this contorted beech, then, would be about twenty-eight feet side to side. (Front to back, it would be about eighteen feet.) These are both bigger dimensions than this cultivar would achieve free-range: A century-old Tortuosa at the Arnold Arboretum is barely twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide.

 

 

 

Here's a look at this specimen contorted beech in an icy winter of 2012, when its canopy was strikingly less extensive. 

 

 
 
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