Copper beeches protect Lyman Estate landscape for more than a century
January 5, 2012
The copper beech trees that dot the landscape of the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts, have provided shade for nearly a century.
In the 1820s Theodore Lyman asked his son George to send six copper, or purple, beeches from Europe to be planted at the estate to filter views of the farm and work areas and create a shady stroll from the garden area to the river.
The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) created the earliest known landscape plan more than a century later in the 1930s. The plan included Theodore Lyman’s purple beeches, including several of his trees from the 1820s. On the lawn, the maps depicted a living beech listed with a fifty-four-inch diameter. This beech survived until 1999, making it at least 180 years old. Its replacement, now five years old, has a long way to go to catch up. An older specimen in the front meadow, believed to have been planted in 1804, was listed with a seventy-two-inch diameter in the HABS plan. Many of the copper beeches imported so long ago were enjoyed by four generations of the Lyman family.
The large purple beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’) standing at the end of the camellia greenhouse and the beginning of the peach wall garden provides shade for the sensitive leaves of the flowering shrubs inside. Now approximately fifty inches wide, it is most certainly one of two young beeches identified on the HABS plan with a twelve-inch diameter. Historic New England landscape staff maintains the health of this centurion tree by annually spraying the leaves to protect against defoliation by invasive European Winter Moth larvae, regularly pruning to prevent decay and protect the glass roof below, and using an air spade to loosen the soil at the base of the tree.