There are two major ways to create accents and features in your garden with plants. You can use colored foliage, which always draws attention, or you can use strong vertical shapes, which catch the eye and contrast with the typical rounded form of most shrubs and trees. A garden without these feature plants will look flat and dull, so they are vital components – just look at the pictures of beautiful gardens and you will see how important they are. If we can take advantage of both color and vertical form at the same time, then we have a powerful feature indeed, that will really stand out. For that, few if any trees can match the beauty of the Columnar Purple Beech, a pillar of rich purple leaves that is perfect for a specimen tree you will love to see growing in your garden.
The Columnar Purple Beech is a deciduous tree with a strong upright form. The branches grow vertically upwards, making a tree that will be 25 feet tall, but just 6 feet across, with a low trunk and leaves from top to bottom. It will reach that size within 20 years, and after that develop into a venerable old specimen that could be 50 feet tall, but still only be 12 or 15 feet wide. The bark is smooth and a warm gray, staying that way even when old, something that is a distinctive feature of beech trees. Along with the lacy network of branches seen against a blue winter sky, that bark makes this tree a wonderful winter feature, so this is an all-year-round tree, without doubt.
The leaves of the Columnar Purple Beech are rounded ellipses, 2 to 4 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide, with an undulating margin and a slightly pointed tip. They are smooth and softly lustrous in the sunlight. In spring the new leaves on this tree are a vibrant, deep purple-red. As they mature into summer they become dark burgundy-purple, holding this color well through the hotter weather. In a breeze the leaves flutter and catch the light in an attractive way. In fall they turn to brownish golds, making a graceful display. When young the leaves tend to stay on the tree through most of the winter, and even older trees may do this on the lower branches. The last leaves fall just before the new growth begins again. The rich coloring of this tree makes it a major garden feature.
Grow the Columnar Purple Beech as a lawn specimen – it doesn’t take a lot of horizontal space, so it can be used even in a smaller garden. Plant it as a single plant, or as a cluster of three trees for an outstanding feature. Grow it in as an eye-catching accent behind shrubs, or plant it on the edges of a woodland area. A row, spaced 4 to 8 feet apart, would make a stunning screen or boundary marker. A pair would frame the entrance to your property beautifully, and it could even be grown for some years in a large planter box to great effect.
The Columnar Purple Beech is hardy in zone 4, so it can be grown almost anywhere in the country. It thrives in most soils, except for wet ones, and this versatile tree is happy in everything from sand to clay. In heavier soils it grows well on slopes or banks and looks very effective on sloping ground. It grows at least 12 inches a year, and more during its early years, after establishment. For the best foliage colors it should be planted in full sun, but the tree itself is somewhat shade tolerant, and it will still look handsome with softer foliage coloring. It normally has no serious pests or diseases, and beech trees are widely recognized as easy to grow in most situations. Deer normally leave these trees alone.
The beech tree, Fagus sylvatica, grows wild across Europe, and it has been planted deliberately in gardens and parks for centuries. Trees live to be 200 to 300 years old, and over the years many unusual forms have been found and developed. The Dawyck Beech (pronounced Daw-wick) is a famous narrow, upright tree that was discovered among a batch of seedlings intended for a forest planting. Dawyck House is an ancient property in southern Scotland, owned since the 17th century by ardent plant collectors. Today it has an enormous collection of rare trees on its grounds. In the early 19th century a sharp-eyed gardener found that seedling, and planted it near the house, where it still grows today. It only became available for gardens in the early 20th century.
Dick Van Hoey Smith is a famous dendrologist in Holland, who collects and breeds rare trees, and in the 1960s he decided to do some breeding with the Dawyck Beech. He used pollen from a purple-leaf beech – those trees are always garden favorites – and created seed on a Dawyck Beech with it. Among the seedlings one had both the upright form of the Dawyck Beech and the purple leaves of the other tree, and this tree became ‘Dawyck Purple’, the tree we call the Columnar Purple Beech, or the Purple Dawyck Beech. These outstanding trees are always in short supply, but in high demand. We have found some beautiful young trees, but we know they will be gone very soon, so order now, and grow this beautiful tree in your own garden.