I took the opportunity to visit Montacute House gardens when travelling home through Somerset the other day because I wanted to see in person their beautiful yew hedges.
Montacute House is magnificent – a fine example of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture. The gardens would have been a formal design, with yew hedges clipped to perfect straight lines, flat tops and precise right angle corners. Although the formal layout of the gardens remain, the yew hedges are now over 4 metres high, free-form, organic shapes and affectionally called the wibbly wobbly by the Montacute House gardeners.
This style of yew hedge is not an uncommon site in many historic gardens here in the UK. I mention a few others in a previous blog post ‘The Fashion for Cloud Pruned Yew Hedges’ The reason for their being is because of the Second World War when most of the gardeners were called up for service, resulting in the formal yew hedges not being regularly clipped. In addition to this, 1944 experienced a particularly harsh winter. The unclipped yews buckled under the weight of heavy snow and became misshapen.
When the war was over and the gardeners returned, they decided not to restore the yew hedges to their formal design but instead clip them to maintain a free-form, organic, cloud shape.
I am pleased they made this decision. There is a majestic beauty about the solid undulations and curves – designed by nature and enhanced by the clipping skills of the gardeners. Stare at the hedges long enough and you start to see faces and shapes that bring the hedge alive with the stories of its past.