Extreme gardening at Powis

Gardener cutting the 14m high yew hedge from hydraulic cherry picker. Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales

Keeping our famous yew tumps in tip-top condition is no easy feat but our gardeners make the task look easy.

The clipped yews along our terraces remain in the mind long after a visit is over, not only because of their sheer size, but because they are such a major element of the garden. But how do our gardeners keep these 14m high beauties looking so spectacular?

In late summer and early autumn our gardeners take to the air in a cherry-picker and several weeks trimming the garden’s high topiary. This guarantees the hedges continue to look spectacular for the next 12 months. 

Extreme gardening at Powis Castle and Garden
A gardener on a hydraulic cherry picker trimming the yew hedge behind a statue of Hercules. Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales
Extreme gardening at Powis Castle and Garden

A head for heights 

In our garden there are almost 8,500 square meters of formal hedging and the 14 yew tumps and 14m high top terrace hedge add a further 7,000 square meters to this. 

"It’s a huge task for us to get all the trimming done,' says David Swanton, Powis’ head gardener. 'Two gardeners spend six weeks trimming the box hedge and two more spend 12 weeks working on the yew. One gardener spends about 10 weeks in the air on this hydraulic cherry-picker getting all the high trimming done.'

" Trimming the high topiary is a huge task. It takes one gardener about 10 weeks on a hydraulic cherry-picker to get it all done."
- David Swanton, Head Gardener

It might sound like a mammoth task but our garden team are actually quite lucky. Until relatively recently, it took 10 men a full four months to clip all the box and yew hedges. 

They used hand shears and balanced on very long ladders, tied together where necessary, to reach the top of the taller yews. Powered shears make all the difference and reduce the task considerably. 
Gardeners trimming of the yews in the 1930s
A picture of gardeners cutting the yew hedges on ladders in the 1930s. Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales.
Gardeners trimming of the yews in the 1930s

An age old story

Powis’ famous yew tumps and hedges are almost 300 years old and their unusual shape tells the story of changing fashions in the horticultural world.

When they were originally planted in the 18th century, the yews were clipped into small, formal cones or pyramids. However by the end of the century English landscape gardening, made popular by figures such as 'Capability' Brown, had become popular and our yew hedges were allowed to grow naturally and become more ‘tree-like’.

This lasted until formal gardening made resurgence in the Victorian era and the yews were once more clipped back into shape giving them the unusual structure that is still so striking to visitors today.