Notable Trees In Dulwich - The Dawyck Beech

First found growing on a Scottish Estate, in Peebles sometime prior to 1850, this natural variant of the native common or European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, is slowly becoming more widely planted for its narrow upright growth. It is rather like a Lombardy Poplar, but with much better foliage.

Two of these trees can be seen in the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery, along Gallery Road, where they form, with two different beeches, a screen for the building, as seen from the road. Here these four beeches ( a Dawyck, a common Beech, then a copper Beech, then finally another Dawyck beech), make a good place to compare and appreciate the different forms, though as here, they are planted too close together and cannot do themselves justice to the wide spreading outline that they achieve in isolation.

No, these are not trees for the domestic garden, not even the Dawyck beech, for they need a lot of space and light, and when in leaf, cast too great a shade for other plants to grow beneath them. However a mature beech wood, with its typical smooth grey trunks, reaching upward from the forest floor of fallen russet leaves, is a memorable place to walk in autumn. Pigs love beech mast - as the nuts are called - and used to be driven into the woods to be fattened up in the autumn.

The well known THONET bentwood chair, originating in Austria around 1836, was probably the first produced chair to achieve world wide distribution, and is made from steamed Beech with a woven or plywood seat, and is still being made to this day. It is said that due to its ingenious construction, no fewer than 36 of these chairs could be packed into a one metre cube, enabling them to be easily shipped worldwide.

There is another lovely variant of the common beech to be found in Dulwich, with deeply incised leaves, known as Fern Leaf Beech. A small specimen can be found on College Road, in the hedge line just before turning into College Gardens. It is well worth looking out for, though how it came to be planted in quite such an unpromising site, remains a mystery. A good specimen can become very large and has an ethereal grace. It would be good to rescue this one from the surrounding encroaching holm oaks.

Beech can make a useful good hedge too, and if trimmed will retain its leaves throughout the winter, as can be seen in the hedge opposite West Dulwich Station. Finally, there is the Copper Beech, with darkest foliage of all the deciduous trees, and are I think loved or hated in equal measure. They make a striking accent in a landscape setting or a park, and I for one would much regret their absence.

Belinda Hindley