As I was working in Dorset the other weekend, I took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Mapperton House gardens.
Their ‘Pool Garden’ is lined with large, cone-shaped yew topiary. Some of the yew topiary has become misshapen over time and I was pleased to see the brave decision has been taken to restore a few to their original shape.
This type of restoration is not for the faint hearted. It involves hard cutting the yew back into the old wood. The beauty of yew is that it will regrow from old wood. But this does take time. Probably two to three years before the topiary starts to look how it used to.
For the restoration to work, the topiary is hard cut back to a supporting framework of strong branches. The yew will soon start to rejunivate, from the tips of the supporting branches and from within on the main trunk.
For a while the hard cut topiary will look like a skeletal collection of branches with very patchy, irregular regrowth. Periodically trim this growth to encourage it to thicken and to maintain the restored shape. After a few years the yew will look better and with continued, regular trimming the topiary will be restored to its former self.
The best time for this style of extreme restoration is in late winter/ early spring. The yew is still semi-dormant but will not have long to wait before the sap starts moving and the new growth begins to appear.
If this restoration work is being carried out on a yew hedge, it is best to cut one side and then wait until next season to do the next. This gives the hedge a chance to recover from the traumatic shock of the hard cut.
Leaving one side to recover with round and cylindrical shapes is difficult. The top part could be cut first and then cut the bottom half next season. But sometimes I think it is best to risk cutting the whole shape and cross fingers the yew topiary recovers. Regular feeding and watering in dry spells will help the yew cope in this time of stress.
For those with less patience, pre-cut topiary can be purchased and used to replace the old misshapen yew. But for those who can wait, rejuvenating old yew and restoring it to its former glory can be a deeply satisfying experience.