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 our gardeners take to the air in a cherry-picker spending approximately 10 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

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.

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.

 

How to trim to perfection

 

We were so impressed with our gardeners’ handiwork, we asked them for their top five tips for trimming your own hedges at home:

1. To get perfect shaping, choose your hedging plant carefully: a slower growing plant, such as yew, is perfect as they don’t take so much clipping when they're fully grown.

2. Clip yew and evergreen hedges in August and September to ensure that they stay neat and crisp until the following spring.

3. To cut a perfectly straight top, stretch a taut string line along the top edge and follow this closely with your trimmer.

4. It’s tempting to cutback an overgrown hedge hard, but beware, not all of it will regrow. You can prune yew, beech and hornbeam, but most conifer hedges will not sprout new growth from old, brown wood.

5. Be very careful if you decide to use ladders at home; it may be safer to call in the professionals. If you do give it a go though, goggles, gloves and ear defenders are all sensible precautions when working with electric or petrol hedger cutters.