Green Sculpture

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The hedge cutting continues.

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the west-facing front of the hedge, trimmings from the sides still to be raked up, top still to be trimmed!

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the (highly toxic) berries of the English Yew (Taxus baccata)

The main feature of our Walled Garden is a large T-shaped arbour made out of English Yew which effectively divides the garden into 3 sectors. It runs about half the length of Walled Garden and very nearly its full width. Along with some of the apple trees, and the larger specimen trees outside the walls,  it’s one of the few original features of the garden, evidenced by a photograph taken in 1903, which features the Head Gardener and his family standing in front of it.  Judging by the height of the hedge, it had already been around for quite a few years!

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20131018-175824.jpg110 years on, the hedge remains roughly the same height – around 2 metres, although it has towers and free standing ‘goblets’ on each corner which extend to 2.5 metres. It comprises approximately 568 square metres of vertical hedge. However, its width ranges from 1.5 to 2 metres and its branch and twig structure is so tight that it is possible for an adult to sit on top of it without sinking inside!

The hedge is cut once a year in September or October. On the shaded sides, its growth is fairly minimal, 1 – 1.5 inches compared to 2 – 3 inches on the south sides. On top, this extends to 6-8 inches or so. The hedge takes several weekends to cut; we have tried leaving it a year but the task becomes a mammoth one if it is left, as the growth in the second year significantly exceeds that of the first.

20131018-175806.jpgOriginally we used electric trimmers but they couldn’t handle the size of the task, and required several reels of cable, so for the last few years, we have used a petrol machine which does the job admirably. We cut the hedge by eye rather than using strings and it is broadly level although heavy snowfall sometimes presses parts of the hedge down, causing gentle undulations. For the high-level work we have a Henchman platform which we’ve found essential as petrol hedge trimmers and wobbly ladders aren’t natural bed-fellows!

Interestingly, the hedge does not appear to be a single variety. Some have longer, more feathery fronds than the typical ‘tight’, broad-needled variety and some tinge a lovely bronze colour in the autumn, returning to the uniform green in the spring. Courtesy of the local bird population, one or two other plants have crept in over the years including holly, rose and elder!

20131018-175937.jpgFor much of the year, particularly the spring, the hedge is a major avian hotel where blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and a range of smaller tits and finches all nest, hence trimming has to take place in the autumn, when the nests are empty. It also appears to be appreciated by a variety of insects – I noticed a ladybird this morning sunning itself up on top!

The hedge feels a little like a maze if you walk up the middle of it. The east-west axis is quite wide and we wonder whether at some point there was a double herbaceous border running its length, perhaps growing more choice, tender plants.

The hedge trimming is quite a lot of work, particularly when it comes to cutting the top. It stretches out before you like a very long road! For 10.5 months of the year, though, there is really no maintenance and it provides a beautiful dark green foil for the rest of the garden and is a nature reserve in its own right. In the winter, it provides structure and height to an otherwise flat landscape.

20131018-175908.jpgIt’s also a curiosity, a talking point, a folly perhaps? A piece of garden history, a green continuum linking me with all the former gardeners of this place, providing us all with an annual obligation to tend this great green sculpture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gardener and his family, 1903, with the same hedge!

 

 

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view from the Sunflower border, now a popular bird-feeding station! The tall tree in the distance (to the left) is a larch (Larix decidua)

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View from the top…

 

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11 Responses to Green Sculpture

  1. Christina says:

    How wonderful to have such a beautiful hedge in your garden linking you to past generations who enjoyed the garden before you. A special privilege.

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  2. Pingback: Over the Hedge | The Scottish Country Garden

  3. flutes52 says:

    What a wonderful legacy and aren’t you lucky to have that remaining picture of the head gardener and family. I expect you are also in an excellent position to write a book about the wildlife of the yew hedge – fascinating. Like the others, however, I don’t envy you the work involved. I’m fiddling with hornbeam hedging at the moment and sometimes my old age gives me pause for thought, but I can’t stop. Mature hedges are truly a remarkable addition to a garden.

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    • Yes, it was marvellous to receive that old photo. The gardener went on to have a few more children after it was taken, incidentally and one of his grandchildren, now a lady of later years, turned up a few years ago to see where her mother grew up; a true link with the past.

      I find ancient trees and hedges fascinating; they have the the potential to outlive us by generations. In Scotland, we have the Fortingall Yew (www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-6UFC5F), estimated to be 5,000 years old and very possibly the oldest living thing in Europe. Quite amazing!

      Good luck with the hornbeam – makes a lovely hedge!

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  4. Much work indeed, yet what a wonderful tradition!
    I planted the perimeter of my 1/2 acre with 135 Leyland cypress, which have grown into a dense privacy hedge, requiring a side sheer and topping every 18 months, to keep tidy and more hedge-like at 25 feet tall. Have one yew in the shrub border, and with annual feeding, it thrives. It has not made those lovely red berries I see on yours. Perhaps not old enough or maybe another variety.
    Your labors are truly stunning.
    Enjoy fall.
    We had our first killing frost night before last and so now there is much raking to do here.
    Cheers!

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    • Wow, that’s a good-sized hedge you have – 25 feet tall! Leyland Cypress has had a lot of bad press in the UK over the years but it serves a useful purpose and, if trimmed regularly, can quite closely resemble Yew.

      Re. the red berries, I note there are more around this year, but there are never that many – possibly the birds get there before me, or I trim it too hard.

      Good luck with the raking up!

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  5. bittster says:

    What a great post, I love the history and the massive presence of the hedges but don’t envy the work involved in trimming. At least it’s only a once a year job! My little boxwood and privet cuttings have a way to go before they even come close to hedging anything in, but at least it’s a start!
    Interesting that there appear to be gravel or earth paths through the garden in the 1903 picture, and it does look as if the hedges backed up perennial borders.

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  6. pbmgarden says:

    It’s so nice you are able to make the connection to the previous gardeners and carry the responsibility of continuing the hedge trimming. The hedge is a wonderful feature to your garden.

    Like

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