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.
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.
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.
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.