Bidding Adieu to the Beech

According to the dictionary, “adieu” means a fond, but final farewell. About two weeks ago, I learned that I would have to say just that – adieu – to a huge, mature beech tree that defines my front yard, and around which much of it has been designed. I’m still in shock, but am trying to see this as an opportunity as well as a loss. A new chapter in my life, so to speak. (My younger son has assured me that whatever I do with the space, he’s sure it will be “masterful,” a touching but daunting tribute). As it turned out, things moved fast. So herewith, a tribute to my American beech (Fagus grandifolia).

Fagus grandiflora

The beech in all its glory, May 2008.

As best as I can tell, this tree was planted some time after our house was built in 1941. It had already been limbed up as shown in the photo above when we moved in during 1988. Until I became a landscape designer, I didn’t know what it was – or appreciate its glory. When I redesigned the front yard in 2001, I had it uplit.
Fagus grandifolia, night lighting for trees

The upper part of my beech, lit by three small spots at night.

Fagus grandifolia, fall color

Fall color on the beech

Fagus grandifolia, bark

Even in winter, the beech is magnificent.

Unfortunately, about two years ago I began to notice dieback here and there in the upper branches. Dead or weakened sections would break off during storms and drop down into the yard. An arborist I trust diagnosed the tree as having hypoxylon cankerand said the beech had 5 -15 years left to live depending on whether I wanted to invest heavily in treatments that would extend its life but still have its large trunk dying off section by section. I decided against the treatments and hoped to get five good years out of it.

A large beech branch that snapped off during a summer storm last July.

It wasn’t to be. The week before Mother’s Day, by which time the beech had fully leafed out for the spring, I noticed the dieback was worse. Then Pepco, our local energy provider (which has been getting lots of criticism for less than average performance restoring power when electricity goes out in our area), decided to catch up on its clearance pruning and proposed taking out a huge section of the tree that was hanging over power lines. They admitted I had taken good care of it and that it “wouldn’t be pretty” when they finished their work. I called in my arborist, who pointed out the tree’s decline would be hastened by the pruning. The result: Pepco would take the tree down, all the way down, at their cost. I tried to look at the bright side: saving HUGE bucks. More time to get a new tree going. The beech, my arborist gently said, was in rapid decline at this point and probably had at most another two years before it would be completely dead. I had the lighting removed, called Pepco, and was appalled when they arrived the very next day (Tuesday of this week).
Tree removal

Day 2 of the takedown, courtesy of Asplundh and Pepco. Firewood, anyone?

The crew was very professional and careful. Still, in the end, it was a sad sight.
Fagus grandifolia

Day 3 of the take-down.

Fagus grandifolia, beech tree

And the last day. Now we wait for the pieces to be picked up.

I’m trying not to fret about the huge amounts of sunlight now pouring onto all my shade-tolerant plantings as the summer approaches. I still have to have the stump ground out, find a new tree (I’m leaning towards a Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii,’ less prone to Hypoxylon and with very nice coppery leaves in summer – providing I can find it), and determine the best time to plant it. But it feels as though there has been a death in the family, in the meantime. I’m sure those of you who love trees will understand.

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10 Comments on “Bidding Adieu to the Beech”

  1. Teresa Says:

    Melissa I empathize and am sorry for your loss of such a magnificent tree. Good luck with the redesign.

    • Melissa Says:

      Teresa, I appreciate the condolences. The kicker is that I also need to take out my equally beloved crabapple tree on the other side of the hill. But come late fall there should be two new trees in place and I look forward ro seeing them grow for as long as I am still in the house.

  2. John Says:

    Oh, that’s a sad story indeed. I’ve lost trees but never one that was that special. I have several beech in the forest and I treasure their leafing habits and smooth bark. I’ve thought about planting them nearer to the yard but the size is truly daunting. I wish you well in finding an adequate replacement for your beech. I took Wendell Berry at his word in ‘Mad Farmer Liberation Front’ and planted a Sequoia in my front yard when I lived in Alexandria. The last time I drove by it was still growing there and dominating more and more of the front yard. I’m willing to bet it’s probably the largest Giant Sequoia growing in Alexandria. Someday the house will be perched in it’s branches. Aren’t you glad that I’m not your landscape designer?

  3. Aimee Says:

    Oh, I’m so sorry! What a sad situation and a real loss. I think it’s always sad to see a tree have to come down, but especially one that was so exceptionally beautiful and well-loved. It seems a crime that your crabapple will also need to come down. You sound like you are handling it all with the most positive attitude a person could muster up under the circumstances and looking forward to the new trees that will soon take up residence with you. Good luck!

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks, Aimee. I appreciate the kind words and the sympathy! It’s really sad to have to lose both trees in the same year although it will make snowstorms less worrisome (I hope). One tree I had considered for replacing the beech was a lacebark elm but in the last snowstorm around here many of them had large branches stripped off because they couldn’t handle the snow and ice loads, so I had to cross it off my list.

  4. sequoiagardens Says:

    Melissa, I can but imagine what you are feeling! Just yesterday I was looking at the closest tree to my house (Sophora japonica – Japanese Pagoda Tree) and thinking that it was now a magnificent mature speciman, and wondering if I would live to see the loss of it – and how I hoped I wouldn’t!

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks for the kind words. The grinding work starts tomorrow. All this has happened in such a short time that it’s a little hard to take in.

  5. Jean Says:

    Melissa, What a beautiful tree that was in its prime — which, I know, only makes the loss that much harder. On the other hand, I think it would also have been hard to see it “uglified” by Pepco and just a shadow of its former glory. I think you made the right decision to have it taken down — as hard as it is.


  6. Oh no, I am so, ao sorry. I know it was a hard decision, but one that had to be made.


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