In Celtic mythology, Fagus was the god of beech trees and had conferred medicinal properties on it – beech leaves were used to relieve swellings, and boiling them  could make a poultice. Forked beech twigs are also traditionally used for divining. Beech trees are associated with femininity and it is often considered the queen of British trees, with the oak as king. The English word ‘book’ is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘boec’ as writing was originally carved on beech wood, as it is soft. This tradition is carried on; if ash is the “lightning tree”, beech is surely the “graffiti tree”, as the bark of many beech trees is covered in personal names and dates going back centuries. It may have been that early writing was actually carved on the soft  grey bark and not the hardwood. Beech is one of the best woods for woodwork; even now many kitchen units and cabinets are beech veneer.

Beech is native in England south of a line from the Wash to the Severn, and there are many fine examples in the parks and gardens of London; elsewhere it was always originally planted, although it now grows wild throughout. Although beech trees grow best on chalk, windbreaks of mature beech can also be seen growing high in the Derbyshire Peak District and in lowland river valleys. Beech woodland is shady and is characterised by a dense carpet of fallen leaves and mast husks, which prevent most woodland plants from growing. Only specialist shade tolerant plants, like bluebells which flower before the summer canopy is complete thrive in a beech wood.

Many of what now seem like ancient beech woods were actually planted by man quite recently. The great beech forests of the Chilterns are almost entirely planted in the eighteenth century. It became fashionable for beech trees to be planted in the grounds of private estates of wealthy landowners in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries because of their stately aspect.

In the great storm of 1987 which hit southern England, beech trees took the brunt and thousands of mature trees were felled. In their place, other species, often fast-growing trees like sycamore and ash have taken over beech woods, as a lack of management has prevented a restocking of beech.

Beech timber is used for a variety of purposes, including fuel, furniture, cooking utensils, tool handles and sports equipment. The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring. The edible nuts, or masts, were once used to feed pigs, and in France they are still sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

London is rich is beech trees and beech hedges and these require a certain amount of maintenance to keep them looking their best. Your tree surgeon will be happy to advise you on any issues that may arise but as a rule of thumb a beech tree should be pruned in the winter, between November and February, as any branches that are not required can be removed completely. To renovate an overgrown  beech hedge an experienced tree surgeon can it back hard in February while it is still dormant. If the height needs reducing by 50 percent or more, then your tree surgeon will stagger pruning over two seasons rather than doing it all at once.

Take A Bough Tree Care would be delighted to offer free, expert advice on any aspect of tree care and work in the following areas – the London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton and Kingston as well as the towns of Battersea, Clapham, Chelsea, Balham, Fulham, Putney, Earlsfield, Southfields, Wimbledon, Kingston, Stockwell, Roehampton and Streatham and. Elmbridge Borough which includes EsherClaygate and Surbiton.

Written by

Toby Douglas is the founder of Take A Bough Tree Care. After university in Aberystwyth, Toby made the decision to study Arboriculture at Merrist Wood, in Surrey. In 2001 he successfully completed a National Certificate in Horticulture, and a National Diploma in Arboriculture, then worked for two years subcontracting to large and respected companies in order to gain the practical experience to compete successfully for both private and corporate contacts once Take a Bough Tree Care was launched

"My trees had been cut back beautifully, taking off the perfect amount, and leaving them in a beautiful shape. All was done with absolutely no mess left. And all for a brilliant price."
Cali

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