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: Fresh Spring Foliage of the Hedge of American Beech



Beech responds readily and happily to training as a hedge. Yes, a beech hedge should be started from truly tiny stock—the smaller the better—and pruned unmercifully for several years thereafter. But after a decade, you can expect to have a hedge like mine: a classy yet invincible wall of foliage ten feet tall.


Beech's talent in forming a hedge extends far beyond its tolerance of  yearly pruning. Indeed, the pruning itself enhances the tree's eccentric growth habits to speed formation of the dense and even growth that is the hallmark of great hedges. Far beyond merely branching out, beech's response to pruning is one of unique style as well as hedge-o-philic synergy.


My hedge is of American beech, Fagus grandifolia. (Hedges of European beech, Fagus sylvatica, behave almost as helpfully.) Perhaps the most striking detail of American beech is the aptness of its Latin name, which means, literally, big-leaved beech. Each leaf can be larger, even, than my hand, and I'm a tall guy with big hands.




The leaves of European beech are only about a third as large.




The next most striking detail is that the leaves of stems on the side of the hedge, by and large, point down. Not upward or outward, or at much of an angle to one side or another. Down.




This might be, partly, because the leaves are large and, at least comparatively, heavy. (The smaller leaves of European beeches display little of this downward tendency.) But the other feature of the new growth is that the new stems themselves are strikingly pendulous. Although there is no full-size cultivar of American beech whose overall habit is weeping, the season's young stems certainly haven't gotten the message.




The weeping stems are graceful in themselves, and also assist the developing hedge in achieving top-to-bottom density. The typical urge of plant growth is to extend upwards, toward the sun, but the goal of any hedge is uniform density of growth top to bottom. And the hallmark of a great hedge is uniform fullness at the bottom. Regardless of their tolerance of pruning per se, plants that are unable to generate growth at their bases that is roughly as dense as that generated at the always-sunnier top, will tend to form hedges with bare ankles. Not so, American beech. It doesn't just accept regular pruning; it then extends the resultant new growth downward, as if to ensure that the hedge is always plentifully supplied with dense foliage right to the ground. (Because new stems of European beech are not as strongly pendulous, it is more difficult to form hedges of the straight species. But there are forms of European beech whose overall habit is strongly weeping. They could be used to form a hedge with impeccable density top to bottom.)




When American beech is pruned, the growth of plenty of side branches is facilitated, as would be normal. But, because their orientation will be downward in both leaf and stem and, by virtue of the pruning, their greater-than-usual number will be growing in a smaller-than-otherwise overall volume, the density of hedges of American beech increases with unusual speed.




But the benefits of pruning don't stop there. Normally, hedges are at their sharpest right after pruning, with new growth "shagging up" the profile more and more. But after American beech hedges are pruned, the resultant growth makes them more flat-topped and smooth-sided.




For a while, at least. By early Summer, a different kind of new stem begins emerging from the top of the hedge. These stems are distinctly different in habit, coloring, and leaf size from the pendulous large-leaved ones that began forming so luxuriantly earlier in the season. They are defiantly upright, and bear smaller foliage that has a pink or tan blush.




By late Summer, it's time for the hedge's annual pruning. Unless additional height is needed, these vertical top twigs can be cut off entirely. Because beech hedges tend to be wide—and, often, too wide—all those new and pendulous side stems should be shortened ruthlessly, too. 


Stay tuned for a Summer-into-Fall look at the behavior of a hedge of American beech. As the pendulous young stems mature, do they give up some of their pendulousity? After the pruning, how much new growth is formed that very same season? And what does pruning have to do with the tendency of beeches to retain Fall foliage right through the Winter?


Here's how to grow Fagus grandifolia, whether free-range or as a hedge. 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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