Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Yew Trees

We have Yew Trees in our garden, three we planted, one we suspect arrived via a bird. In our local  churchyard there are 99 Yew Trees, I believe it to be a true fact although I have never actually checked it out. Apparently people do try counting them and invariably come up with different numbers!
A medieval legend tells us that there are just 99 trees growing in the churchyard and that the devil would destroy the hundredth if it were ever planted.
In the year 2000 the church was faced with a dilemma. Every parish in the Diocese was given a yew tree to plant to mark the millenium.
Our local church was chosen to host a special service where all of the young yew trees were blessed and handed out.
Parish officials bravely planted the 100th yew on the north side of the church opposite the local hostelry. Contrary to legend it has survived as you can see below
One of the 300 year old yew trees toppled over during some bad winter weather in 2007. The local people wondered if the legend was becoming fact, but after extensive cutting and trimming it too is growing back.
This yew tree arrived unexpectedly in our garden also in the year 2000. It was just a small spindly twig, no bigger than 6 inches high. H began pruning it each year, and I consider that our 'gifted' tree is actually doing better than the one in the churchyard.
Our other three yews are Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aureomarginata" or Golden Irish yew which grow in a columnar shape
All of the original trees in the churchyard are over 300 years old, but there are other yew trees in the country that are 1000 years old. The trees were considered sacred when Christianity was first introduced to Britain.
They were used rather like an advertising logo to make the new religion familiar
The trees enjoy longevity due to their unique growth pattern. The branches grow down into the ground to form new stems which then rise up around the old central growth as separate but linked trunks. 
The central part may decay, leaving a hollow tree, but  the new trunk growth continues to give life around the original tree
Yew trees represented a symbol of death and rebirth 
 the new that springs out of the old
  resurrection - life
Every year in September the clippings from the yew trees produces over 2 tons of material. The fresh clippings form the source of the raw material for the anit-cancer drug paclitaxol. The trees are cut by specialist contractors who collect the clippings and send them off for processing. 
Druids regarded yew trees as sacred and planted them close to their temples
Surprisingly the red fleshy part of the berry is not poisonous but the seeds inside are very toxic, the leaves and the bark are highly poisonous too and can cause fatalities in humans and livestock
It is said that the planting of yews was a way of having a plentiful source of wood for bows.
The Rev. G. White wrote "we do not hear that they are planted in the churchyards of other parts of Europe where longbows are not so much in use". One authority derives the word 'Yeomen' from 'Yewmen' the men who used the yew bow.

Last Saturday afternoon we attended a concert in the church given by the acclaimed worldwide cellist Steven Isserlis. I picked up a chest infection on the plane journey home from Greece so thought it wise to arm myself with some cough drops for the recital. However, in the first half of the programme I experienced that awful phenomenon of a tickle in the throat. It seems the more you try to control it the worse it gets. The pianist Alfred Brendel once warned his audience: "Either you stop coughing or I stop playing!". I decided that the better option was to leave the performance at the interval. Hence the arrival of this post. Instead of enjoying the second half of the recital I spent my time very pleasantly wandering around the churchyard photographing the trees, and reading the tomb stones in the May sunshine.

68 comments:

  1. Hello Rosemary, Everyone associates England and its immemorial Yew trees, hedges, and alleys. Although the clipped forms you show are characteristic, I prefer a more natural look. In the U.S., they are very popular as foundation and garden plantings, but as far as I am aware carry no special meanings other than decoration.

    I hope that you recover soon from your cold.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - for me, box and yew, I like clipped. All other trees I am happy for them to be natural.
      All of these legends etc come from the mists of time.
      I think that I have finally turned the corner, thank you, one of the hazards of travel.

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  2. I'm sorry that you weren't able to enjoy the whole recital but grateful for this post. Yews are such beautiful trees and the setting in which you show them is spectacular! I always learn something from your posts and so enjoy your images. May you have a speedy recovery.

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    1. Thank you so much - I am pleased that you enjoyed this post which arrived unexpectedly due to my leaving the recital - often there are other compensations if we look.
      These trees are lovely, in the wintertime when they are covered in a layer of snow they look magical too. I think I have turned the corner with my infection.

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  3. What lovely photos of the Yew trees, and I bet they take a fair while to trim them. Interesting that parts of are for a cancer treatment.
    That was good of you to leave the concert even though you would have liked to stay. It's hard not to cough if you have to so I hope the cold and cough soon go.

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    1. They take a team of men several days to complete the trimming. Some are very high and they need scaffolding to trim them.
      I have another concert next weekend so hope that things will have improved - thank your for your kind comment.

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  4. I know it is such a nuissance trying to control coughing and it is always getting worse. A pity of the recital but you enjoyed yourself with the 99 no, 100 yews. Very interesting story, I love the nicely clipped yews on the churchyard but also in gardens.

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed the post - I was sad to miss the rest of the recital, but so embarrassing when you cannot control a cough.

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  5. I hope you no longer have the tickly cough. We have 4 huge ancient yew trees in our garden (as well as numerous seedlings!) A friend has made me a long bow from one of the vertical branches of one of the female trees (far to difficult for me to shoot with!!!).
    My studio is between this tall straight multi stemmed female yew and the wide spreading male one that dusts pollen and scatters catkins! I love the early winter when the thrushes and Redwings visit to feast on the berries.

    Our village millennium yew was strimmed into oblivion! It's fate was officially blamed on the local rabbits - who never visit the churchyard and wouldn't want to nibble a Yew.

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    1. Dear Celia - I was really interested that you have a longbow actually made from one of your own yew trees. Your view from the studio must be a delight all year round.
      Knowing how poisonous the tree are I do not believe that rabbits would have nibbled it. Animals seem to know instinctively what they can and cannot eat. It is interesting though that it makes a cancer treatment, but that is also true of the poisonous foxglove.

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  6. It's sad you have to miss the concert, but your own health is more important. I hope you feel well soon.
    Wonderful vieuws of the yews.
    Have a great evening Rosemary.

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    1. I am hopeful that I have now turned the corner Marijke but I do appreciate your kind wishes.

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  7. Hello Rosemary:

    As you will most likely be aware, we are very familiar with the yew trees to be found in your local churchyard. They are indeed magnificent. The fact about the yew branches making good longbows is new to us. Fascinating.

    We have always considered that yew makes the best possible hedging within a garden and does, if out of shape, respond so well to hard pruning when it will always shoot from old wood. The Irish yews do make wonderful eye catchers or can be positioned to act as sentinels at entrance and exit points.

    It is such a pity that you had to miss the second half of the concert but it did, as you say, allow for these very splendid pictures. We trust that you are feeling better now.

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    1. Hello Jane & Lance - there are certainly some very fine yew hedges around here, and especially I think of the one at the estate of Lord Bathhurst in Cirencester which stands 40 feet high and 15 feet wide. It was planted at the same time as the ones in the churchyard.
      I have another concert from the series next Saturday, so hope that things will have improved by then. I think I have turned the corner now but thank you for asking.

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  8. Ah! Painswick. I used to live down the Slad Road towards Stroud. Went to many concerts in the church....
    I think in your garden, they are what is called Irish Yews?

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    1. Yes, you are right Stephanie, they are golden Irish Yews, but for some reason seem to have lost a bit of their gold colour.

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  9. It looks so pretty.

    Bea Cupcake

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    1. Thanks Bea - I hear that you enjoyed a good Minion!!! party♡

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  10. I know this churchyard with all those Yew trees. We went there a few years ago, tracking down long gone ancestors for our family tree. Beautiful village and your photos are gorgeous. Such a shame you missed the end of the concert and hope you're feeling better now.
    Patricia x

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    1. Thanks Patricia - I do hope that you had a successful trip when you were tracking down your ancestors.

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  11. Another interesting post. Sorry you had to leave the concert - have you tried Vigroids - I always find they help. Unfortunately, they haven't been available here for a while. Note to self - must check and see if they are here yet.

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    1. I am sure that I remember those from when I was a child - I think that we called them black imps, but I haven't seen any for years.

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  12. I hope that your throat is better now so that you don't have to miss any more concerts! A very interesting post and it was lovely to see around your local churchyard, the trees are beautifully cared for. xx

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    1. Thank you Amy - I think that the corner has been turned. The churchyard is very attractive - there were several Japanese tourist taking photos too.

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  13. Such a pity you missed part of the concert. That tickle in the throat always comes when it shouldn't doesn't it? I hope you're feeling better already now?

    On the other hand you had a great opportunity to photograph the yew trees and getting us all acquainted with their almost mystical, extraordinary shapes. they reallly do have something sacrred about them. I had never seen one, only know a yew hedge here and there but there aren't such old yew trees around here anywhere.

    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - the trees we grow, the plants we choose for our gardens, the local building materials used, I suppose these various aspects help to give our countries their different characteristics. Most villages in England have yew trees growing in them - be it in the church yard, a cottage garden, or within the grounds of a manor house.
      Thanks for kindly asking how I am - hopefully I have now turned the corner.

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  14. Hello Rosemary

    Sorry you had to leave the concert at intermission. The silver lining is we get a beautiful and interesting post.

    Wishing you complete healing

    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - thank you for your kind wishes. Pleased that you enjoyed the post too.

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  15. Taxus is such a versatile tree, one I really favor in the garden, so easy to shape and never sick ( or ill ? ) The trees here are spectacular, and when you think of how old they are....What a pity you missed part of the concert, I know that tickling in the throat !

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    1. A tickle in the throat seems to play on your physcology - the more you want it to go away the worse it gets.
      The trees are lovely, there are always tourist wandering around them with their cameras.

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  16. I hope you are feeling better, Rosemary. Thanks for this lovely post on those ancient yew trees - magnificent! I am thankful for my yew shrubs because they provide a lovely backdrop for my white flowers. And they grow in shade! I recommended yews to a friend for his garden, and he said they were too common. Oh, well, go out and look for something showy then.

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    1. Knowing how beautiful your garden is Loi I am surprised that your friend did not heed your generous advice. There are certainly lots of yews in the Cotswolds, I think that they compliment the stonework.

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  17. Your pictures of the yews are magnificent - I have never seen them shaped before - our churchyard has limes, no yews.

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    1. Most of the churchyards around here have lots of yew trees but this particular one has a feast of them. I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing them and you are right they are magnificent.

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  18. Dear Rosemary,

    I do hope that you are feeling better by the time you read this!

    I like that the yew tree has such a dense shape and I favor the clipped shape. I can see how one would be drawn to start counting them. What especially attracts me in your posting are the images of all those ancient gravestones, which must tell a lot of interesting stories. Coming from such a youthful country, gravestones even 200 years old are a rarity.

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    1. Dear Mark - making progress slowly - the pitfalls of travel.
      I enjoy the clipped yews they add structure and create an interesting ambience to the whole.
      It was very peaceful wandering around the churchyard, and you are right about the ancient gravestones telling interesting stories, but usually sad.

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  19. A pity you had to miss the second half of the concert, Rosemary, but we are the beneficiaries with this fascinating post. I love the thought that the tree clippings can be used for such a worthwhile purpose. My sister-in-law had taxol chemotherapy last year and was very glad such a powerful and effective drug is available. Our village churchyard only has two yew trees, one on either side of the path, but they are truly enormous.

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    1. The yew is a perfect example of why we should be more careful and protective of the plants and trees that grow in our world. I am so glad that you SiL benefitted from the resultant yew tree drug. We only have to think about the foxglove too, a poisonous plant but very beneficial to the heart.

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  20. What a lovely place! This must be the most beautiful place to live in Rosemary...
    Love,
    Titti

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    1. Dear Titti - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post - it is a place where I feel contented to be.

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  21. I am glad we benefit from your throat tickle but sorry that you are not well. The yew trees are magnificent. Once again you have schooled me.

    Now about the fried green tomatoes. Use a firm round green tomato. Slice it thinly. Dredge it in a cornmeal and flour mix. I use about half of each with some salt and pepper. Fry the green tomatoes in a hot skillet of vegetable oil. Not deep frying-just each side. They can be served as an appetizer with ranch or horseradish dressing. Or as a sandwich with bacon and swiss cheese. You might like them. Olive

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    1. Thanks very much Olive, I will definitely give it a try - it has a southern USA ambience to it which I fancy.

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  22. Isn't modern medicine incredible Rosemary. To think that the clipping from Yew can be used in the battle against Cancer is awe inspiring.
    Hope you are having a great week.
    Paul.
    PS. Maybe it was I who planted the extra Yew tree in your garden! I do like a bit of Guerrilla gardening:)

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    1. Mr Paul - the yew ball in our garden has just been renamed in your honour.

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  23. The clipped yew trees in the churchyard are beautiful to look at, but I imagine they need a dedicated team to maintain them. I do hope you have recovered from your chest infection. A tickly cough is so trying.

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    1. One annual clip is all that is required. It takes a team of men 2 - 3 days to cut them all. It must cost a few thousand pounds, but I am not sure whether they get paid anything by the drug company for the clippings.

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  24. Dear Rosemary,
    your English church yards are very special - the graveyards are so peacable, I love to walk around.
    Yew trees are under nature protection in Germany, so one must think well in advance if one wants to plant them in a tiny garden.
    I hope your cough is better by now.

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    1. Getting better - thank you dear Britta - all old yews trees are protected here, but I do not think that the one in my garden which arrived via birds would be of interest.
      There is a very ancient yew tree in Fortingall, Scotland which is thought to be well over 2000 - 5000 years old, and is supposed to be the oldest living thing in Europe. Archaeological evidence hints at an iron Age cult centred at Fortingall, of which the tree may have been its focus. The site was Christianised during the Dark Ages perhaps because it was already a sacred place.

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  25. So sorry to hear you had to miss half of the recital but glad that you and we gained some benefit from it! The churchyard is amazing with so many of those lovely trees. How you are to enjoy this weeks concert instead. Sarah x

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    1. Fingers crossed Sarah that I shall be alright on Saturday.

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  26. I don't think I've ever seen a Yew tree. They sure have a wonderful place to play in the landscape and legends.

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    1. The Yew Tree is a northern hemisphere tree and is one of three native conifers found in the UK along with the Juniper and the Scots Pine.

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  27. Sorry to read that you have been unwell. I guess at least you heard part of the recital.
    So pleased to see these beautiful photos in and around the church yard. Enjoyed reading the many interesting facts about these lovely trees. What a job to prune them!
    Hope you are feeling much better now.

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    1. The pruning is done professionally by a team of men once a year over 2 - 3 days. They have to use scaffolding to reach the tops. They don't grow a huge amount over the year but become more compact as the years pass.
      Feeling much better - thank you Betty.

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  28. Sorry to hear about your infection, and hope that it has cleared up by now... but aren't we the lucky ones... you miss the second part of the recital, and we get to see all these fabulous photos. Have you ever printed out your blogs...or had them printed as a book ? Your photographs are so stunning, and accompanied by your always delightfully informative text....it would be a wonderful book to read, and to wander through. Jx

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    1. Dear Janice - I think that the infection was the result of the plane flight - one of the down sides of travel.
      If anything has lifted my feelings today it is your very generous comment - thank you Janice. I am now floating on cloud nine, but 'no' I have never thought of doing what you suggest. I did once print out one post when I featured a friend's house, but that was purely as a 'thank you' to them.

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  29. I'm sorry you had to leave the concert, but the images of the yew trees and churchyard are just beautiful and I have really enjoyed looking at them and the stories behind them, thank you.

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    1. Thank you Suzie - yew trees have a fascinating history going way back to the Dark Ages in our country.

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  30. When attending concerts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there are eucalyptus drops available free in huge glass urns as one enters so anyone with a hint of a tickly throat can help themselves and thusly allow both themselves, the other guests and the artists performing that day no disturbances from coughing! I had a tickly throat once; and I do not prefer the taste of eucalyptus, but I took a few drops anyway. IT WORKED!!! Perhaps you might want to give it a try tomorrow for your next outing. Hope you are almost back to normal,

    Rosemary. I loved seeing those magnificent yews in your photos. In Wisconsin and Illinois, I chose the yews for our foundation plantings for their luscious green coloring throughout the year and their winter hardiness. Now, on to research that handsome cellist...
    Mary in Oregon

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    1. Dear Mary - thank you very much for the tip - I shall call in at the chemist tomorrow for some eucalyptus tablets to suck.
      Steven Isserlis is British, but his grandfather was allowed to leave Russia in the 1920s to promote Russian culture and never returned.

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  31. Dear Rosemary,I hope that you are feeling better now!I really enjoyed seeing your wonderful photos and reading all these informations about the church yard!Wishing you a lovely weekend!
    Dimi...

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    1. Dear Dimi - glad that you enjoyed reading about our local churchyard and it's fascinating ancient trees.

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  32. You always write so interestingly. One thing that occurred to me is that it's rather hard to tell how many trees there are when they keep regrowing and their branches twine together and are then clipped so they look like one tree.
    Isn't it awful when you can't bear not to cough. i am glad you turned the time to such good use.

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    1. Dear Jenny - I had to miss the next concert this Saturday too - my chest was still not 100% so I decided that I didn't want to go through the experience again. Your mind plays tricks on you when you feel like coughing at inappropriate times.

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  33. I make a point of visiting the Saxon church and its grounds, in the little village of my childhood, on each trip "home". The back area is now left uncut and is a haven for wildlife.

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    1. Dear Susan - I think that you are travelling quite soon - do hope that you have a wonderful time. I seem to recall that you mentioned Norfolk as being your childhood home? I wonder which Saxon church you are talking about.

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  34. I admit I knew next to nothing about Yew trees, Rosemary, let alone the definition of Yeomen. I love picking up bits and pieces of knowledge when least expected. But knowing you and your wonderful posts, I should have expected to learn something. I usually do. :) P.S. Beautiful photos, as always.

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    1. Pleased that you enjoyed picking up some more bits and pieces of knowledge and that you also liked the photos♡

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