New life for an ancient garden

View of packwood overlooking the south court and the yew garden

The Yew Garden at Packwood is considered one of Britain’s major topiary gardens and is undoubtedly Packwood’s most significant feature. The largest yew trees date from around the 1600s but the garden originally started its life as an orchard and has evolved into its present appearance over the past 350 years.

During the Victorian period the legend of the yews symbolising the Sermon on the Mount was first recorded and the garden took on its present form in the early 1900s when Alfred Ash removed the remaining fruit trees.

A garden in trouble

Packwood’s yew trees do not grow in ideal conditions; this puts the trees under a lot of stress and leaves them vulnerable to disease and the soil contains patches of heavy clay which leads to frequent water logging.

In 2008, after the trees started to show worrying sings of decline, Head Gardener Mick Evans and his team hand dug new drains to the worst affected trees, most of which started to show signs of significant improvement.

Wander through the 18th-century gate to the Avenue of Giant Yews at Packwood House
The view through the 18th-century gate to the Avenue of Giant Yews at Packwood House, Warwickshire
Wander through the 18th-century gate to the Avenue of Giant Yews at Packwood House

New life for an ancient garden

The team are now looking to build on this recent success and have started a phased programme of rejuvenation to safeguard the future of the garden. Over the winter months of 2014 some of the most affected trees were stripped back to their main trunk to help the bark re-generate from old wood and allow them to re-grow.

Two of the magnificent yew trees cut back to encourage new growth
Two of the yew trees stripped back
Two of the magnificent yew trees cut back to encourage new growth

Over the next ten years over half of the yew trees will be cut back but it is crucial that we undertake this conservation work now in order to preserve the garden for the enjoyment of future generations. By carrying out this important project the team hope to secure the future of this iconic and ancient topiary garden for ever, for everyone.

Looking to the future

Our ten year project to rejuvenate approximately fifty percent of the ailing trees in Packwood’s Yew Garden began at the end of 2014 and is now moving into its fifth year. In November 2014 three of the worst effected yews in the ‘Multitude’ area of the Yew Garden were selected as the first trees to be hard pruned back to a ‘totem pole’. Of the three yews, two had responded well and were putting on new growth along the length if the trunk. The third yew tree, had not put out any new growth and has been replaced by a healthy 5 year old plant, propagated by a cutting from a nearby, healthy Packwood Yew.

Stroll around the yew trees at Packwood House
Packwood from the yew garden
Stroll around the yew trees at Packwood House

In order to bring back the trees in the Yew Garden to full health we have been experimenting with various different methods. Recently we improved the drainage and the garden team are gradually cutting back half of the dying branches on the worst affected trees.  

The roped off area will enable us to rest 10 ailing trees and the surrounding lawn from any further soil and root compaction caused by ‘foot-fall’. We are anticipating that by resting this area we will see less physical stress on the trees. We are also hopeful that there will be an improvement in the growth and health of the yew trees compared to others outside the control area.

Thank you for helping us with our conservation of this very important part of the garden.