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

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Pruning the Beech Hedges

Fagus grandifolia after pruning 020515 640


After its annual pruning, the hedge of American beech is once again an architectural presence, not just an effective screen. In the picture above, the section of hedge running from the center to the front-left corner has been clipped; the portion running off-screen to the right awaits its trim.


The picture below looks along the top of the just-clipped section. I've clipped off the first-year twigs, which were leafless and nearly two feet long. They always sprout most thickly along the hedge's top.


Fagus grandifolia hedgetop afterpruning far focus 020415 640


With clean lines restored, some other things are once again visible. Perhaps the first stunner is how crude a beech hedge is at close range. Especially one that is well-pruned. Yes, from a distance, the surface of American beech's unusually big foliage appears thick and almost comically solid, like a wall treatment for giants: "Chunky Pointy Terra Cotta Rubble-Wall Plaster Supreme," say. And, while the massive scale of this hedge—about four feet thick at the bottom and nine feet high—is on a par with the big-boned texture of its foliage, it's the pruning that shows just how few branches and even leaves the hedge has.


Fagus grandifolia hedgetop after pruning front focus 020415 640


The stubs of the just-cut twigs are prominent, clearly showing that, even at the top of the hedge, where new growth will be the most dense, there seems to be a branch only every four to six inches. And each bears just a few of the beech tree's tan, quirky "Fall foliage that's retained until Spring" leaves. Just a six-inch square of the surface of a hedge of yew or box might contain scores of small twigs bearing hundreds of tiny leaves. Think of a hedge as if it were a loaf of bread. A single slice of a hedge of yew or box as large as this one of beech—a foot thick and nine feet high, say—probably contains thousands of leaves and hundreds of twigs. Looking along the top of this forty-foot length of beech hedge, I wonder if there are a thousand leaves in, as it were, the whole loaf? A couple of hundred twigs? 


A hedge built of such big blocks is very quick to prune, because there are so few cuts to be made: a couple of hundred twigs, so a couple of hundred cuts. In my experience, then, beech hedges are easily pruned by hand, twig by twig. Even if handled in a single session, the pruning of this sizable block of hedge—the top as well as the two side faces—might take just over an hour.


Pruning by hand is practical, not just speedy. A power pruner would crunch through the brittle tan leaves, and a beech hedge with skimpy Winter foliage would fail at its most eccentric and exciting show: providing beautiful coverage through the Winter with leaves that, on most other plants, have fallen from the branches by Thanksgiving. Hedges of Fagus grandifolia create a dense screen with shockingly few leaves, so even partial defoliation is self-defeating.


With so few cuts needed to groom American beeches that are grown as a hedge, it's an even quicker business to clear off the top of this section—and, so, bring back into view the wild and spidery bump of twigs at the far end. Its branches are the antithesis of those of the beech hedge. They are as long and thin as whips, and readily curve downward from the central spine.


Fagus grandifolia Taxodium arch Taxus cuspidata 020415 640


Contrast is one of the essences of engaging design. The beech hedge is formed of trees whose wood is so strong and stiff that it's used for finely-worked carpentry, such as gracefully-thin furniture legs or the hammers of piano action. But the branches of the wild bump of what's-it are so flexible and limp that, without support and training, the tree in question could grow only as a groundcover.


The bump is even higher than the nine-foot hedge of beech, though, and has grown so tall only with my considerable help. I'll profile this ultra-flexible mystery tree next.



Here's what this length of hedge of Fagus grandifolia looked like just before pruning. Here's how to grow Fagus grandifolia, whether free-range or as a hedge. Here's a look at the pendulous stems, bearing enormous large green leaves, that Fagus grandifolia produces in Spring. Here's a look at the range of hues—from creamy white to tan—that the Winter foliage of American beech can adopt depending on the tree's exposure to sun or shade the previous Spring and Summer.

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