Few would argue that the yew is not the pre-eminent hedging plant. It’s tight and distinctively rich, dark green foliage is immediately recognisable. And although it undoubtedly has grandeur, it is a very democratic grandeur and is at home in every kind of garden.
Yes, the oldest yew hedges – whose age can often be counted in centuries – do tend to be found in gardens that were once the private domain of the aristocracy or the very rich, but that is only because when such hedges were planted, they were the only ones who had a garden. Today, every garden can find space for a yew and over the next few posts we will show how.
But first a few basics, starting with several misconceptions…
Many assume that the Yew must be temperamental, a bit of a horticultural diva that requires a team of professional gardeners to persuade it to grow. Nonsense. The Yew really is neither fussy nor fragile. It is happy to be planted in acid or alkaline soil and in sun or shade. It is exceptionally hardy, frost tolerant and drought resistant. To grow a Yew hedge, you require just two things – a little patience and good drainage. Other than that, and an annual trim, the Yew will make no further demands on your time. We should also address the question of the Yew’s growth rate – it’s commonly thought of as a slow growing hedge but the term slower growing would be much fairer. OK, the Yew is never going to beat the Leylandii in either a sprint or a marathon, but it will still put on 24cm (10 inches) a year . Which is still pretty good going.
With autumn approaching – the perfect season for planting a new Yew (or any other) hedge – now’s the time to start planning and preparing.
The first step is to check your soil’s drainage. Simply dig a hole approximately one spade deep somewhere along the line of the proposed new hedge and then fill with water. If your soil has naturally good drainage, the water will drain away steadily over the next 10-15 minutes. If your proposed hedge will be extending for more than 30m or so, dig two or more test holes along its length – it’s not that unusual for the soil in a large garden to vary.
If the result(s) are good, then you can start the simple ground preparations ahead of your new Yews’ arrival. We suggest that Yews are planted at 45cm intervals and for best results all you have to do is dig in some good compost (not peat as this would be a waste of a valuable resource) around each spot where you intend to plant. Do that now and when your plants arrive it will be the work of moments to establish them in their new home. The quicker you get them into the ground once they’ve arrived, the better.
However, if after those ten minutes have past, you find yourself still staring into a pool of water, don’t despair. You may still be able to accommodate yew trees in your garden and we will explain how in Parts 3 and 4…