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Restoring Yew Topiary Back From Tunnels to Triangles

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Last week I worked on restoring some yew to their original triangular design.

The yew had been allowed to grow to create two tunnels. Although a lovely idea, the yew never really knitted together sufficiently to create solid tunnels. This probably could have been achieved but it would have taken many years of careful trimming, thinning and tying in.

On a practical level it was very difficult to trim the tops of the tunnels using a long reach hedge trimmer and ladders. Taking the time to set up platforms was not cost effective and this would have been difficult with the uneven ground at the back of the tunnels. The only way was to burrow into the yew next to the tunnel with a step ladder and pop up through a hole like a seal coming up through the ice. You could then access the sides of the yew tunnels with the long reach trimmer.

Removing the tunnels was relatively simple but time consuming. Difficult to use a chainsaw as the yew was quite flexible and could ‘tear’ rather than cut the branches. I used sharp loppers and secateurs to achieve clean cuts, and removed the tunnels by hand.

A good tip is to do two cuts. First I did a rough cut, removing most of the tunnel growth but not cutting back too far. The second cut was more careful, taking the yew back to the desired height and getting the sides straight. String lines can be used as a guide to achieve straight lines but this time I did it by eye.

The yew tunnel had been growing for many years and the branches were relatively thick. These had to be taken back by an extra 3 inches to allow enough room for the soft new growth. This is the growth that will be regularly trimmed and thickened to create the sides and top of the topiary triangle.

I removed a lot of the dead twiggy growth in between the branches but it was impossible in the time available to remove it all. In a way it’s good to keep some of this to protect the new, young growth on the yew branches from the cold Winter weather. In Spring more time can be spent removing the dead twigs to create room for the new growth. This will also help get as much light as possible into the yew to stimulate more growth.

Yew is a wonderful plant for restoring in this way. It shouldn’t be long for enough new growth to appear and then restore into triangular shapes that match the others in this beautiful garden. Hopefully will take about two or three growing seasons.

By James Todman

Topiary Specialist based in The Cotswolds, UK.

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