By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener After posting my water bill piece, I decided we ought to get out more. And so we did. To look at some very big trees. Surrey and Kent have some of the most magnificent ancient trees in the country. Two yews (Taxus baccata) in particular are just breathtaking: the Tandridge Yew in the churchyard of our own parish church, St Peter’s and just down the road, the Crowhurst Yew in the churchyard of St George’s, Crowhurst. Both are reckoned to be around 4000 years old. The sheer majesty and atmosphere of both these venerable trees go beyond description, so I’ll attempt no words here. See for yourselves:
Amazing facts you always wanted to know about yews, but were afraid to askâ€¦
- Yew trees are traditional graveyard species. Because they are poisonous they were planted originally to deter farmers from allowing cattle to graze in the churchyards
- The only part of the yew that is not poisonous is the red aril (fleshy berry-like covering of the seed). This is so that the seeds can be eaten safely by birds and dispersed. These fruits were known in some parts of England as ‘snotty gogs’ or ‘snottle berries’.
- According to folklore, 99 yews may be planted in a churchyard (must be a big churchyard) but the 100th will always die
- Longbows were traditionally made of yew wood
- The cancer drug Paclitaxel is derived from the yew (also sold as Taxol or Abraxane, all derived from the scientific name for yew, Taxus sp.)
So how does this all fit in with the Wildlife Garden? Well, we have some holes in our mixed hedgerows of hawthorn, oak, maple, beech, hazel and holly, and we were wondering what to fill them with. What better, or more local, species to fill the gaps than some hedging yew? So we went off to a local nursery and bought three little yew bushes. If they do as well as the Tandridge and Crowhurst yews, the future occupants of the Wildlife Garden won’t have to worry about building a garden wall. Next post: Mixed Feelings ” When A Grass Snake Sets Up Home With Your Newts And Frogs