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Mature beech tree with box understorey

Hobgoblins and wyches

I was lucky enough this week to be given the freedom to explore a unique and wonderful woodland at the UK Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers: a box woodland. I was there with co-author Sarah Simblet as part of our research for our book: The New Sylva. You can read more about the visit on our author’s blog at www.NewSylva.com. After my research was complete and while Sarah was busy completing her work drawing a view of the woodland, I had time to explore more of it with my camera.

When first entering the woodland you immediately notice a wall of dark green understorey. Box (Buxus sempervirens) trees of all sizes appear everywhere under the larger beech, ash, sycamore and horse chestnut trees.

Mature beech tree with box understorey

Mature beech tree with box understorey

In places we had to crawl on our hands and knees through thickets of box so thick that they were almost impenetrable. Here and there the canopy opened and the stems of the box were festooned in mosses. In combination with the twisting stems of the box and dark undergrowth, the woodland had the air of a fairytale woodland fit for hobgoblins.

Some extraordinary box undergrowth festoned with mosses

Some extraordinary box undergrowth festooned with mosses

The box trees grow very slowly, but eventually become much larger that you will ever see in park and gardens where they are clipped to small hedges or as topiary. In the wild they can grow to be 9m tall with stems up to 15 cm in diameter (dbh); they normally grow in diameter at a rate of two years for every one mm. Box timber is therefore incredibly dense and is the only wood that grows in Britain that will sink in water.

A large stem of box Buxus sempervirens

A large stem of box Buxus sempervirens – although only 12cm in diameter this tree is already at least 240 years old

Accompanying the box in the understory were many beautiful and healthy wych elm (Ulmus glabra), holly, yew and whitebeam trees, such as this amazing contorted and multiple-stemmed specimen.

Box trees and whitebeam

Three box trees growing next to an amazing contorted and ancient whitebeam tree Sorbus aria

Gabriel Hemery

5 Comments

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  1. forestfriend #
    June 16, 2012

    Beautiful photos – indeed a ‘wyrde’ place! Hope you left David Cameron a message to ‘Save our public woods & forests’ from some of his Cabinet colleagues…
    All best
    Robin
    PS – I thought alder sank in water or was at least dense enough/water-proof for our ancestors to use as water-pipes?

    • June 16, 2012

      Thanks Robin

      Alder and elm were both used for items needing durability in contact with water but neither are dense enough to sink (at least not until rotting and saturated with water).

      Gabriel

  2. Suzanne #
    June 16, 2012

    Beautiful! Thank you for the insight into Boxwoods. I hadn’t thought about Box as trees. I’ve just discovered that they used to use a sprig of Box, instead of rosemary or thyme, to throw into the grave with the coffin, this is maybe why it is considered unlucky to bring indoors:) Suzanne

    • June 16, 2012

      Thanks Suzanne. I hadn’t heard of the use of box in burials. As you say it makes sense that this is linked to the indoors superstition.

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