Tree Coppicing At Chiswick House Gardens

Sarah Finch-Crisp on a 'drastic' but time honoured method of woodland conservation

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As part of the major landscape restoration project at Chiswick Gardens a considerable amount of work to trees is taking place. This includes the restoration of the Western Lawn which slopes from the house down to the river. Her William Kent’s 18th Century masterpiece of a naturalistic styled garden providing sweeping views from the house across the river, has been revived with the selective removal of trees and railings at the waters edge.

Behind and in front of the House a considerable amount of work is taking place to reduce the scale of the formal hedges which have become much taller and broader than intended. This will be replicated on other formal hedges in the gardens. At first the hedges will look a little brown and bare but new growth will soon return.

As part of the regeneration of the woodlands eight areas within the gardens will be coppiced within the next two months. This is an ancient practice of cultivating a shrub layer of trees such as hazel and sweet chestnut by cutting to the ground every ten to twenty years. This produces straight trunks which can be used for logs, hazel hurdles and pea sticks.

Coppicing can seem very drastic but it is a time honoured method of woodland conservation. The stumps have a rapid regeneration and there are other benefits too. Ground vegetation beneath the trees is able to re-establish due to increased light reaching the woodland floor. The increased light levels and space also allow for the planting of new shrubs and trees such as oak, hornbeam, hazel and hawthorn which are being chosen in favour of the invasive self seeding species such as sycamore and ash which can come to dominate an unmanaged landscape.

For members of the public who would like to find out more about the ancient art of coppicing there will be demonstrations on 17th December. Full details of the event will be published shortly.

Sarah Finch-Crisp, Director Chiswick House and Gardens Trust

November 27, 2008