A remarkable specimen of Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’ can be found in a small residential garden in north-west London, but regular maintenance is required to ensure its continued survival does not cause problems for its neighbours.

SHED no tears for the weeping beech tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’) – certainly not for the superb specimens featured in this article. Both achieved a huge size and a grand old age, all the more special since weeping beech is not common on the amenity landscape where traditionally planted. This is in stark contrast with its counterpart the common beech (Fagus sylvatica), which is a frequent feature in forestry as well as amenity. 

I had all but forgotten about the weeping beech tree and confess to only seeing this ‘aberration of arboriculture’, albeit a beautiful one, on one occasion before. That sighting was many years ago in London’s Hyde Park where I recall observing a grove of weeping beech trees, although I admit to not taking too much notice at the time. For my rekindled interest in weeping beech I have to thank Shane Lanigan, who together with his team does tree work through his long-established company. Urban Forestry is based in Bedmond, a village close to the towns of Kings Langley and Hemel Hempstead in west Hertfordshire. This hands-on tree work is additional to Shane’s primary role as a leading arboricultural consultant within the industry.

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Since 2009, Shane has been carrying out regular tree maintenance work on a classic weeping beech in north-west London. The tree is prized by its lady owner, but due to its sheer size, intrinsic spreading nature of the canopy, high vigour and vitality, despite an advanced age, the tree requires routine management which Shane and his team deliver as and when required. The overall size and branching structure of this truly amazing specimen means the tree has the potential to overwhelm the client’s relatively small triangular garden as well as intruding extensively into a neighbour’s garden.

Shane told essentialARB he estimates the tree’s age at around 175–200 (median 185) years, which is extremely good going for any beech, weeping or not. Common beech as a pollard can exceed this age, but history and experience shows how very few common beech standards go beyond two centuries, and increasingly so. Trees originally planted in rural woodlands and on country estates are now within the suburban amenity arena having to cope with intense building activity and traffic pollution both chemical and physical in the form of ground vibrations. 


Forestry Journal: The branches hang vertically and stopped short at about one metre from the ground to form a neat ‘skirt’.The branches hang vertically and stopped short at about one metre from the ground to form a neat ‘skirt’. (Image: EA)

Be that as it may, Shane’s calculations suggest this weeping beech tree must have been one of the very first specimens to be planted anywhere in the world, because the weeping beech cultivar designated for planting was developed by grafting and introduced by British gardener, artist and naturalist George Loddiges (1786–1846) at his London nursery in 1836, some 187 years ago. 

The Loddiges nursery at Mare Street in Hackney (then a suburban village to the north of London in the historic county of Middlesex) was established by his German-born botanist/horticulturalist father Conrad Loddiges (born Conrad Lochlies; 1738–1826). Two centuries ago, Mare Street in Hackney boasted the biggest hothouse in the world and in its day rivalled the hothouses at Kew Gardens. The influence of Loddiges nursery spread far and wide to include the Adelaide Botanic Garden in South Australia.

So not only was Shane’s weeping beech one of the first to leave the Mare Street plant nursery in Hackney for planting, but it did not have to travel outside of the county of Middlesex or very far to its planting site. The distance between Mare Street, Hackney, and the suburban garden where the tree now resides is just 15 miles.

Shane said: “The age of this tree means it pre-dates the dwelling house and all the other properties nearby and by a long way.” He surmised that this weeping beech was planted as a specialist item to complement a historic landscape that was part of a manorial – or similar – estate property at that time, around two centuries ago. This is clearly speculation but almost certainly true, because the town (now just inside the northern boundary of Greater London but previously [pre-1965] within the old county of Middlesex) still has a grand manor house with substantial grounds, likely to have been considerably bigger circa 1850 when this tree was planted.

This weeping beech clearly outlived those who planted it, but time and tide wait for no man or tree. It is no longer a young, solitary specimen growing within the bounds of a sweeping lawn on a country estate with plenty of room to spread out, but a huge mature tree within the confines of a small, suburban garden area with two traffic-heavy main roads to the south and east, clearly with the capacity to cause problems.


Forestry Journal: Shane Lanigan measures cbh (circumference at breast) of the massive weeping beech treeShane Lanigan measures cbh (circumference at breast) of the massive weeping beech tree (Image: EA)

Shane told essentialARB how the work started in 2009 following a recommendation from the consultant who was looking after the tree at the time. The house owner is fond of the tree but has continual concerns with regard to its overall size, with it dominating her small garden and encroaching over the house and garden to the east. She also worries about deadwood up in the tree’s crown, especially since there is a history of large pieces – up to 150 mm diameter and 3–4 m long – falling into her garden.  

Following some severe weather, Shane and his team reduced the length of the inherently pendulous branches intruding significantly into the owner’s garden and those over the house of the adjacent property.  A secondary objective was to reduce the southern side of the crown to allow more light into the garden and the rear elevation of the property. Major hazardous deadwood was removed at the same time.

“Despite its age and some battering at the hands of the elements, the tree’s physiological condition remains good and its vitality is remarkably high despite local air quality having likely declined,” said Shane. Indeed it is this ongoing high vitality that continues to cause concern.

Shane said: “The tree significantly restricts the client’s use of her garden and the main reason why we are engaged every few years to reduce the length of the longest and most intrusive branches whilst also pruning out most of the deadwood.

“This specimen is likely to be the largest weeping beech tree in Hertfordshire and the old county of Middlesex and must surely be a contender for the largest of its kind in the whole of England.”

Not surprisingly this tree is statutorily protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and therefore requires formal written consent from the local planning authority before almost any work can be carried out. Certain exceptions apply in respect of deadwood removal and necessary abatement of hazards that present an immediate risk of harm.

The tree is structurally sound, comprising around six vertically growing scaffold branches which emerge from the trunk at around 12 m above ground.  These grow upwards to about 30 m before turning to grow downwards. They are immensely long and reach almost to ground level. At the point where they change orientation, the bark on the upper side has been killed, seemingly by sun-scorch, because it is directly exposed to the sun’s rays. Shane says he has seen this effect on every weeping beech he has worked on and expects these areas to ultimately decay and cause the affected branches to break and fall from the tree.

Forestry Journal: Looking up into the canopy is like being inside a gothic cathedralLooking up into the canopy is like being inside a gothic cathedral (Image: EA)

Shane recalls how the consultant who previously worked on the tree became concerned about the structural integrity of the graft – and justifiably so in Shane’s view.  However, while using an increment borer to investigate the graft, the consultant found to his surprise that the wood at this point was so structurally strong that the borer snapped. It remains embedded in the graft point to this day.  

Sometime in the future, Shane and his team may undertake a sonic tomograph investigation as a precautionary measure.  The procedure is essentially non-invasive and causes minimal harm to the tree.  Nonetheless, consent from the local authority will be required for this procedure because it constitutes tree work and, as such, possible harm to the tree.

He summed up the current position with and for this weeping beech tree: “It could be considered as yet another instance and example where a quite remarkable specimen has been significantly compromised by ill-conceived development.”


Forestry Journal: When I saw the tree in October 2022 the leaves were beginning to ‘turn’ colour.When I saw the tree in October 2022 the leaves were beginning to ‘turn’ colour. (Image: EA)

Shane’s weeping beech tree, clearly one of the very first, did not have to travel far from the nursery where it was developed but many subsequent specimens did. One of the first to experience inter-continental travel, and which appears to be very close in age to Shane’s weeping beech, was a tree which died in 1998 at the ripe old age of 151 in North America. Having been developed at the Mare Street nursery in Hackney, the young tree took a rather circuitous route to its new home and had the distinction of being the very first weeping beech tree to be brought to the United States. 

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It was brought as a seedling from a nobleman’s estate at Beersel in Belgium and planted in 1847 in New York by Samuel Browne Parsons, a horticulturalist who wanted to diversify even more the plant life in the US. His son, Samuel Parsons Junior, went on to become superintendent of New York City Parks. In 1972, the weeping beech tree was designated a New York City landmark thus protecting the specimen tree as the city grew.

Sadly, the tree died in 1998 of old age. At the height of its lifespan the tree stood 60 feet tall and had a canopy of branches and leaves (a so-called leaf curtain) that was 80 feet in diameter.

I finally got to see Shane’s weeping beech in October 2022 when the leaves were on the turn and the bright sunny day did true justice to this remarkable and outstanding tree.