While Philip Miller repeats his views on topiary, it is worth noting that not once does he even suggest that Yew [Taxus baccata] is difficult to grow…
Philip Miller on The Yew – Yew Hedges (Taxus Baccata)
The common Yew (Taxus baccata) is often promiscuously cultivated in Gardens – there is hardly any Sort of evergreen Tree, which has been so generally cultivated in the English Gardens, upon the account of it being so tensile, as to be with Ease reduced into any Shape the Owner pleased; and it may be too often seen, especially in old Gardens, what a wretched Taste of Gardening did generally prevail, from the monstrous Figures of Beasts, &c. we find these Trees reduced into. But of late this Taste has been justly exploded by many Persons of superior Judgment: for what could be more absurd than the former Methods of planting Gardens where, in the Part next to the Habitations, were crowded a large Quantity of these and other Sorts of evergreen Trees, all of which were sheered into some trite Figure or other; which, beside the. obstructing the prospect from the House, occasioned an annual Expense, to render the Trees disagreeable.
Having got that off his chest (again), what does he think of the Yew Itself:
The only Use I would recommend this Tree for in Gardens, is to form Hedges for the Defence of Exotic Plants; for which Purpose it is the most proper of any Tree in Being: the Leaves being small, the Branches are produced very closely together; and if carefully shorn, they may be rendered so close, as to break the Winds better than any other Sort of Fence whatever; because they will not be reverberated; as against Walls, Pales, and other close Fences; and consequently are much to be preferred for such Purposes.
How the C.18th nurseries cultivated the Yew tells a familiar story of care, vigilance and patience. We start at the point the cuttings, planted in beds, are celebrating their first birthday:
These Plants should be constantly cleared from Weeds; which, if permitted to grow amongst them, would cause their Bottoms to be naked, and many times destroy the Plants, when they continue long undisturbed.
In this Bed the Yew may remain two Years; after which, in the Autumn, there should be a Spot of fresh undung’d Soil prepared, into which the Plants Should be removed the Beginning of October; placing them in Beds about four or five Feet wide, planting them in Rows about a Foot asunder, and fix Inches Distance from each other in the Rows; observing to lay a little Mulch upon the Surface of the Ground about their Roots, as also to water them in dry Weather until they have taken Root; after which they will require no farther Care, but to keep them clear from Weeds in Summer, and to trim them according to the Purpose for which they are designed.
In these Beds the Yew may remain two or three Years, according as they have grown, when they should be again removed into a Nursery; placing them in Rows at three Feet Distance, and the Plants eighteen Inches asunder in the Rows; observing to do it in the Autumn, as was before directed, and continue to trim them in the Summer season, according to the Design for which they were intended; and after they have continued three or four Years in this Nursery, they may be transplanted where they are to remain, always observing to remove them in the Autumn where the Ground is very dry; but on cold moist Land it is better in the Spring.
These Trees are very flow in growing; but yet there are many very large Trees upon some barren cold Soils, in diverse Parts of England: the Timber of these Trees is greatly esteemed for many Uses.