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

Arch of 'Dawyck Purple' beeches



A grand old beech tree, spreading ever outward and upward, is a thrilling monster.  But beeches also enjoy being trained into yoga-like contortion.  (See my Belgian fence of thread-leaf beeches here and here.)  An arch is one of the simplest positions—but it's stunning nonetheless


Nearly fifteen years ago, I planted a pair of these columnar purple beeches, Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple', on either side of the front vestibule.  (That's bamboo to the left of them, and to the right, the left-most of a pair of standard lindens, Tilia cordata 'Summer Sprite'.) 




All three of them were thriving—but getting so large that the front of the house was getting blocked.  This October was the time, finally, to start the beeches (and lindens) on their lifetime of training.




The lindens are easy:  Think of them as a short hedge on stilts.  I just lopped off anything that seemed out-of-bounds, and created a block of branches and foliage about the size of a fabulously generous bathtub.  (The lindens will leaf out with gusto, not to worry.)




It was also surprisingly easy to bend the beeches into an arch and then tie them into place.  (See "How to Handle It" below.) 




But the beech arch and the linden "bathtub" are just the beginning of the training, not least because they don't, at the moment, have a thing to do with each other.  The bathtub is blocking the view of the arch and, in any event, the arch is curved but the bathtub and its two supporting trunks aren't.





What to do?  First, I'll let the arch's bulk thicken and square up.  In a few years it won't be a simple curved arch at all but, rather, a block of foliage atop two thick side columns.  Perhaps the profile to go for is that of the Arc de Triomphe—just in purple foliage, not pale stone.  An—whoops, what's the French word for "beech"?—Arc d'Hêtre


The linden bathtub (which I might prune to a greater shallowness) would be just a preamble to the beech's architecture behind it:  An introductory arch before the "arc" itself.


And since I'm thinking in terms that are both architectural and grand (let alone Gallic), maybe I'll also train up a big purple cartouche atop the center of the beech arch.  Think of a gigantic purple pineapple as big as the house's center window. 


Even more exciting:  With all of this rampantly rigid training at the center of the house-front, the flanking colonies of bamboo will still be waving at each side with gleeful and defiant freedom.


The full effect will take some years.  Stay tuned!




Here's how to grow your own beech arch:


Latin Name

Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple'

Common Name

Purple-leaved Columnar Beech


Fagaceae, the Beech family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous tree.


Zones 5 - 9.


Vertical and, at least for a beech, strikingly narrow and upright.  A purple spike in infancy, a purple cigar in adolescence, and a purple submarine in adulthood.

Rate of Growth

Slow to medium.

Size in ten years

Fifteen feet tall and two to three feet wide; eventually fifty to sixty feet tall and fifteen to twenty feet wide.


Dense and, despite its narrowness and height, sturdy.   

Grown for

its habit:  Although they are definitely upright compared to the wider-than-tall habit of regular beeches, a columnar beech is by no means a sylph.  A tree twenty feet wide and sixty feet tall is, in its own way, every bit the monster as a tree that's eighty feet wide but only fifty feet tall.  Along with the columnar English oak, Quercus robur 'Fastigiata', whose dimensions in old age are every bit as gargantuan, a columnar beech makes one of the strongest and largest statements of any hardy tree.


its foliage, which is deep purple early in the season, and still credibly purple at the end.  The leaves are the normal beech shape: about three inches long and an inch and a half wide.  Oddly, even though beeches are deciduous, their foliage show doesn't end with the coming of Fall and Winter.  Beeches (and some oaks) are unusual in hardy plants in retaining their dead leaves through the Winter.  (This is much more common in milder-climate plants:  Think of Washingtonia palms in California, even very tall ones that have been growing for decades, with a skirt of brown fronds right to the ground.  Those old fronds at the bottom are very nearly as old as the tree itself.) 


Normally, only the branches closer to the ground and nearer to the center of the tree retain this talent as the tree ages.  Trees that are pruned as extensively as is needed to form hedges and arches, though, inherently (but inadvertently) have all the branches removed, pruning after pruning, that are too far from the trunk and ground.  They're left, then, with only the branches that retain their Fall leaves right through the Winter.  But not only do those Fall leaves not fall off in the Fall—they don't even fall off the following Spring.  They're pushed off the branches by Spring's new crop of emerging foliage. 


Thus, pruned beech trees retain foliage (either dead or alive) year-round.  Beech hedges, therefore, provide privacy year-round, and beech topiary is in leaf, and therefore "full form", year-round, too.

Flowering season

Spring: Beech flowers, however, aren't showy, although the subsequent nuts—loved by squirrels and tasty enough to have given their name to the Beech Nut cereal line—have a modestly-showy prickly covering.


Full sun in any well-draining soil.

How to handle it

Beeches aren't picky about soil—decent is good enough—but they are fanatics about drainage.  The rule of thumb is Never Plant a Beech on Level Ground.  In other words, be sure that surface water can quickly drain away from the plant even if this means planting it on a slope of only inches, or on a broad but low mound.   


Beeches can have such a monumental and powerful-limbed maturity that it's pleasantly counter-intuitive how much they enjoy (or at least tolerate) any amount of pruning and training.  Nothing, but nothing, is better than a beech hedge.  Beeches also train beautifully—into espaliers or across pergolas or, as here, into an arch—because the young growth is very flexible whereas the mature growth is so strong and durable that the older trained individual can hold its geometric shape almost without support. 


One tactic to train into an arch is simply to do what I did:  Get up on a ladder, bend one tree over, tie an anchoring rope around it within a few feet of the top, then tie the other end temporarily to the lower trunk of the partner arch-mate.  Do the same with the arch-mate.  With both trees approximately in their ultimate curve, then you can tie one tree to the other at the center of the arch.  Make additional ties every couple of feet outward from there, right down the sides of the arch. 


Tie the branches in firmly but not as if you're making a tourniquet.  Don't worry if the you find that the right day for you to create your arch is when the trees are in leaf:  All the foliage will drop in the Fall, and new leaves will orient themselves to the sun even though their branches were suddenly reconfigured the previous season.  That said, the easiest time to "arch" beeches is during the colder weather, when the trees are leafless. 


Don't hesitate to prune off any stray branches, large or small, that don't seem to want to get with the program.  Beech trees sprout readily from cut branches—at least any of those small enough, flexible enough, and therefore young enough to have been bent into an arch in the first place—so any branch you cut will soon, if anything, only provide more new and flexible branches to fill out your arch.


You'll need to prune your arch yearly.  And because so many of the branches in any arch are, inherently, bent more towards the horizontal, you'll have plenty to prune, too:  Branches that are horizontal (or even just on a slant) will always put out more new sprouts, and from more of the side buds all along their length, than ones that are vertical.  


If you prune in the Fall, new sprouts won't appear until Spring:  Your arch will keep its sharp and just-clipped shape all Winter long.  If you clip only in the Spring, your arch will wear its new and shaggy Summer growth all through the coming Winter. 


Best, then, to clip just before growth begins in the Spring, to generate plenty of new growth to help fill in or thicken-out your arch over the Summer.  That growth is also very flexible, so you can easily angle new branches over to a thinner patch and tie it them into place. 


Clip a second time in late Summer or into the Fall to clean up the arch's geometry.


Each year, be sure to check out where you've tied branches into the arch.  Remove any that are no longer needed, are getting too tight, or whose ties are old enough that they're failing.  Retie with fresh material (I just use regular cotton-wrapped clothesline) as needed.


As long as they get the sun and drainage they require, beeches are unusually self-reliant and disease-free.


Fagus sylvatica is available in an ever-widening circle of cultivars.  Leaves can be any number of shades of purple, or chartreuse or even yellow, or green, or variegated.  Leaf shapes can be round, thread-like, lacy-tipped, pointed, or contorted.  Mature sizes range from shrubby mounds to monumental creatures as big as any mansion.  Habits can be wide and upright, narrow and tall, low and spreading, medium-sized and mounding, or massively weeping (either widely or narrowing).  And your choice can be across several characteristics:  A purple-leaved thread-leaf beech?  (Indeed!  See it here.)  A yellow-leaved weeper?  A purple-leaved dwarf?  The choices only increase. 


Fagus grandifolia, in pointed contrast, has never shown any interest in being anything other than green-leaved and broadly upright.  Its leaves are several times as big as those of F. sylvatica so it's worth growing even if your other beech is "just" the green-leaved F. sylvatica.  Like F. sylvatica, it is also happy to be clipped into an incredible hedge.


On-line and at nurseries.


By grafting.

Native habitat

Fagus sylvatica is native to Europe.  'Dawyck' was a spontaneous mutation discovered in Scotland; 'Dawyck Purple' is an offspring of a flower of 'Dawyck' fertilized by the pollen of a normal-habit purple-leaved dad.

FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!


Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:


* indicates required