Tag Archive: yew


 

wp_20170202_11_40_17_proMy first New Year session at Blickling was just a morning. Just recovering (hopefully) from an inflamed hip I wanted to ease myself back into physical work gradually.It was a lovely bright morning after a foggy start, I had a warm (if ‘bantered’) welcome back from the gardeners and volunteers and it was great to be back.

Gardener Rob was in the course of trimming the yew hedging around the double borders, so I set to raking up and dumping the cuttings in a trailer for later disposal. Over a number of years these cuttings (and especially those gathered in the summer season), have been sold off to a company which turns them (or rather more specifically the oil/resin they contain) into cancer fighting drugs- all the way from Italy. Rob told me that in recent years sales have been dropping off and the money received has also been reducing as the company now has it’s own yew plantations.

I may have mentioned before that the yew used to surround the double borders (Taxus baccata) should eventually grow to form a dense hedge that can be cut to the traditional sharp-edged shapes reminiscent of many ‘heritage gardens’. however, there is a bit of doubt about the purity of the variety we have here, as the Trust’s gardens advisor thought it might be from a commercially-developed strain which is less dense. Certainly here at Blickling after about ten years growth, whilst there are some nice thick areas, there are also patches where holes are evident. Hopefully with continuous trimming new, short growth will sprout and so eventually we’ll get the full effect anticipated.

In any event the carefully cut returns on the hedges- shaped using templates to mirror the gables on the windows in the House- are starting to look nicely defined-see the pictures below. Rob was also having to measure the heights of the hedging as the land slopes upwards towards the end, meaning to keep the whole thing looking visually right he would need to progressively shorten the height of the hedge (and so the top facet of the sculpted returns would be lost at the end).

As we progressed through the morning Rob and I discussed ideas for improving the ‘Black Garden’ which sits at one end of the double borders, from where there is a ‘classic’ view of Blickling, taking in the House, parterre and lake beyond (see pictures below). This area suffers from a definite slope and this and a lack of continuity of the hedging and edging helps to divorce it from the double borders. Ideas include trying to more closely tie it into the rest of the area by repeating a circular gravelled area (which needs to be wide enough to allow a tractor and trailer to turn), and repositioning the large seat from where you get the ‘classic’ view. I think levelling the space is important and I like the idea of tying it into the rest of the double borders, but it will be tricky trying to get paths to fit visually and to meet the practical needs of the gardeners. I gather that there’s also the possibility of a viewing tower being erected nearby which would also afford wonderful views over the parterre and the wider estate. It will be interesting to see some designs on paper.

Well, my morning went by and my leg caused me no problems, so hopefully I can gradually build up my strength once more and get back to longer sessions here- and in my own garden.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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OK, this is cheating bit, I suppose. I wanted my fifth object to capture several things; but all of them involve cutting. Finally I decided on  a plant, or rather a plant treated in a particular way; topiary. In this case at Levens Hall, Cumbria.

levens hallPruning plants is a key gardening task; to stop or promote growth, to shape plants, to remove dead or diseased material, to propagate – and of course we should include grass cutting here.

I could equally have chosen a pair of secateurs or perhaps a lawnmower, but the clipped shapes of yew, box, or other species capture for me this important garden task and also symbolise what you might call the core ingredient of gardening; the conscious act of doing something to enable a plant to grow and to grow in a particular place or way.

Topiary’s clipped shapes transform the wayward beauty of nature into forms and masses which can add structure and give pleasure; when standing alone or providing a foil for swaying grasses, nodding allium heads or cottage garden favourites.

I know there is one school of thought that says this, sometimes drastic, technique seems unnatural, which is certainly true. But then again gardening is about the directing, guiding and controlling of nature. And I have to say, as a fan of topiary, it can make a garden fun. Just look at this combination of geometric shapes at Levens Hall, some of them centuries old. And when you search for topiary on the internet- which I suggest you do- you see all manner of human, animal and other forms, cleverly cultivated and maintained for our enjoyment.

One might almost say topiary puts a smile into any garden…

Old School Gardener

Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

‘I doe not like Images Cut out in Juniper or other Garden stuffes: They be for Children. Little low Hedges, Round, like Welts, with some Pretty Pyramides, I like well.’

Sir Francis Bacon

‘What right have we to deform things given us so perfect and lovely in form? No cramming of Chinese feet into impossible shoes is half so wicked as thwe wilful and brutal distortion of the beautiful forms of trees’

William Robinson- ‘The English Flower Garden’ 1898

Personally, I really enjoy topiary- growing it, trimming it and admiring others’ creativity and skill in producing the rather more fantastic forms it can take; oh, and they also make me smile!

OK, so you are cutting back natural growth, but aren’t we doing that when we prune things anyway? What do you think?

Old School Gardener

 

IMG_8624The second and final stop on our trip home from Devon recently, was Montacute House, Somerset. Surrounded by beautiful, formally laid out gardens, the warm, honey-coloured stone of the house glowed in the spring sunshine. There was a splendid display of tulips and wallflowers and a magnificent ‘cloud’ yew hedge reminiscent of those at Blickling House, near our home in Norfolk. We were fortunate to meet  a gardener in the ”orangery’, which, she explained, was not really in the best spot for this and had in the past been more of a shady water feature, with its tufa – clad grotto. This and it’s surrounds are gradually being replanted with ferns and other suitable species. Pots of standard Bay trees line the terrace outside where once orange and lemon trees would have been placed in summer.

‘Montacute is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, glow of ham stone, and its surrounding gardens it is a place of beauty and wonder.

Sir Edward Phelips, was the visionary force and money behind the creation of this masterpiece, which was completed in 1601. Built by skilled craftsman using local ham stone under the instruction of William Arnold, master mason, the house was a statement of wealth, ambition and showmanship.

Come face to face with the past in the Long Gallery, which is the longest of its kind in England. The gallery houses over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Beautiful gardens surround Montacute, constantly changing, filling the house with scent in summer and providing an atmospheric backdrop for a winter walk…’

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Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

Griselina littoralis- a good seaside hedge

Griselina littoralis- a good seaside hedge

I’ve had a few queries about hedges recently and this one, from Robert Galbraith is my choice for this week’s GQT:

‘We live in a bungalow near the seashore in Sussex, where the soil is rather sandy. Could you suggest some suitable hedging plants to give our garden a bit of privacy, please?’

There is quite a wide choice of suitable plants Robert. You could go for Grisselina littoralis which has thick yellowish – green leaves forming a dense, solid hedge if formally clipped and will grow in most soils. Escallonia ‘Langleyensis’, with red flowers in June – July is often grown in seaside locations and has glossy evergreen foliage. Other varieties are E. macrantha with deep red flowers in June – September and E. ‘Slieve Donard’ with large pink flowers in June- August.

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) has silvery grey foliage and orange berries (if both male and female forms are grown). Tamarisk pentandra has feathery flowers in August whilst the form T. tetranda is May – flowering.

Euonymus japonicus, with evergreen shiny leaves is also available in variegated forms which can withstand close clipping as does the shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera nitida with small golden – green leaves.

More generally, and not necessarily suitable for a seaside home, the best ornamental evergeen hedges for formal training and clipping are Yew and Holly. Box is also suitable, but is very slow growing and expensive so is best kept as low hedging (up to about 1 metre tall) or feature, perhaps topiarised, bushes. Hedges of Cypress and Cherry Laurel are also good for an evergreen barrier and Privet, provided it is trained correctly from planting, will supply a satisfactory semi-evergreen barrier.

Cherry Laurel

Cherry Laurel

Old School Gardener

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The Maze at Longleat House, England

The Maze at Longleat House, England

I must admit I’m a bit of a fan of labyrinths and mazes.

As a play landscape designer I’ve tried to find ways of incorporating them in my designs as they are especially attractive to children. Usually they are one of the first design ideas to be dropped, generally on grounds of maintenance requirements. I’ve tried to suggest simple materials like grasses to mark out a pattern, rather like the one in the Cambridge Botanic Garden, but again they do take some looking after. The best I’ve managed is a wooden stepping stone and daffodil spiral. One day I’ll find a client with the imagination and deep(ish) pockets to give a bigger one a real go.

Labyrinths and mazes – what’s the difference between them?

Well, the answer is  ‘it rather depends…’.  There is one school of thought that sees labyrinths as different to mazes and another that sees labyrinths as one type of maze. Labyrinths have just one route– so there’s no danger of getting lost – whereas mazes are rather more cunning in that they have dead ends, twists and turns which are set out to puzzle and confuse. Sir Walter Scott’s ‘O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!’ comes to mind.

Labyrinths (remember the single route or ‘unicursal’ one) are found in many cultures, some as old as 3,500 years. They all have an entrance or mouth, one route to follow and a central destination, sometimes marked with some sort of stone/statue/ feature. A further detail is how many concentric circuits or paths they contain and they can vary from the small to the huge – several hundred feet across. They have traditionally been seen as spiritually symbolic, meditative paths as well as just entertaining and can be found in many religious buildings such as Chartres and Ely cathedrals.

The Labyrinth pattern in Chartres Cathedral

The Labyrinth pattern in Chartres Cathedral

Humankind has been fascinated by patterns in the land for millennia and some of the earliest were forms of spiral (some multiple spirals). These later developed into the sorts of maze-like patterns we’re more familiar with, including the Cretan maze (or labyrinth as its usually called!). Of course the famous one was that in classical mythology where Theseus found his way to the centre and killed the Minotaur to ensure he freed his fellow Athenians. He used a length of thread to trace his way in and so find his way out. Which rather suggests that this ‘labyrinth was in  fact a more complicated maze as it would have been easy to retrace his steps in a one-route labyrinth! This all goes to support the case that the words labyrinth and maze are interchangeable, and certainly common usage suggests this- e.g the turf ‘mazes’ in some English gardens are in fact labyrinths (i.e. one routers).

A-maz-ing Gardens

Mazes as multi – choice routes really developed in gardens out of the parterre and knot gardens which used lines of plants (usually Box) to create patterns within which other plants, gravel, grass or sometimes coloured powders created a contrast in colour and level. You can wander around these hedges in some gardens and it isn’t difficult to imagine how (either deliberately or perhaps through lack of maintenance!) these hedges grew taller. This both made it difficult to grow anything successfully within them and also added a touch of mystery to the experience of walking round the garden. A book by Daniel Loris –  ‘Le Thresor des Parterres de l’univers‘ – written in 1629, seems to capture the developing fashion for such mazes (though most of it is concerned with the traditional parterre).

Hampton Court Maze, England

Hampton Court Maze, England

Britain’s oldest surviving hedge maze is at Hampton Court – created by George London and Henry Wise in 1690 and also thought to be the oldest hedge maze in the world in continuous use. Originally planted with Hornbeam and having two trees at the centre the hedging is now Yew, the hedging used in many traditional hedge mazes.

Labyrinth of Horta, Barcelona

Labyrinth of Horta, Barcelona

The Labyrinth Park of Horta in Barcelona, Spain, was created around 1794 as part of a neoclassical ‘makeover’ of the garden by its Marquis owner. In recent years the garden and maze have been restored and I have had the good fortune to almost stumble across it.

A simple bulb labyrinth at Cornell University, USA

A simple bulb labyrinth at Cornell University, USA

Today there are many different types of maze to be found in gardens, parks and estates around the world, some using hedges or walls (for your truly ‘puzzling maze’), others using turf, other grasses, low-growing plants or materials to mark out the (usually labyrinthine) route. In Britain temporary  ‘Maize mazes’ created in agricultural fields have become a popular summer visitor attraction.

There is something magical about these labyrinth and maze ‘puzzles on the land’ and I hope that one day I can create one in a park or garden…maybe you have scope for one in your garden?

Sources and further information:

Garden Mazes

Mazes and labyrinths

Design your own maze

History

Wikipedia- labyrinths

Wikipedia- mazes

Labyrynthos- resource centre

Labyrinth.org

Maze photos

Quizzicals (thanks to Les Palmer for these):

answers to the last two-

  • Has had too much already Sycamore
  • A country full of automobiles – Carnation

and a couple of gardening ditties

Big in Japonica’

‘You picked a fine time to leave me lucerne’

Old School Gardener

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