Yew too

Once upon a time I planted a Pacific yew tree. Well it was about six inches tall so it was more like a Pacific yew cutting really and hard to take seriously but it had roots and everything and there was something cute about it. I planted it beside a similarly petite western yellow pine tree near an established matching western yellow pine tree.  This created a rather crowded clump of two (Pinus ponderosa) pines and a (Taxus brevifolia) yew sprout and here they are today. (Okay it’s still winter and the gardens look abandoned–use a little imagination.)

two pines and a yew

They were all planted in the lawnish area so since then we have been mowing around each one of these trees, but for a year or two I’ve been thinking of removing the sod and making a curved bed to encompass the group. Then suddenly last summer the yew sprout went berserk and its growth started making me nervous.

Pacific yew tree

I read about old yew trees, which can get 50 feet tall and very fat, and I wondered if this one  needed to be moved to a bigger space like maybe the center of the north pasture.  I read some more and then I did what gardeners do best: I made a list, this time of mostly wonderful relevant yew facts.


1. Yew trees respond well to pruning. They can be made into bonsai trees. Or they can be pruned to resemble a whale or a chicken or a hybrid car.  “So surely,” I said to the dog, “it could be made to simply look like a smaller yew instead of a huge overgrown badly positioned yew.” (He looked skeptical but what do dogs know about pruning.)

2. Yew trees are perfect for shady understory planting–they like shade, like under pine trees.

3. Yew trees add “classicism” –which I know you will agree is a nice contrast to the Deadwood element contributed by the ponderosa pines.

4. Yew trees can live for 2000 years plus. (You see I’m not wasting my time here my dears although at some point someone else is going to have to take over the pruning.)

5. Yew tree wood is the gold standard in materials for making long bows for archery. (Post-apocalypic insurance.)

7. Yews like water while pines like dry— but that hasn’t been a problem so far and supposedly they both like ‘well-drained soil’ but are doing fine in heavy clay so why do I bother to read this stuff anyway?

8. If you are human and eat any part of a yew tree it will kill you.  Not so wonderful fact. But if you are a deer no worries. (But if you are a deer, where did you get this computer?)  Now there is ONE part of the tiny fruits which won’t kill humans but the seed within it will stop your heart, useful to remember when writing your next murder mystery. There are so many toxic garden plants:  jasmine, daphne, lily-of-the-valley, rhododendron… I have stopped being bothered by it and just vow to feed guests well so they aren’t tempted to eat the chrysanthemums. Note: I have always been neurotically careful with children and if you are a child of mine reading this well at least I didn’t let you eat the azaleas.

Next in the yew project is the sod removal (horrid hard muddy heavy part) to create a shared bed beneath the three trees, and then I can add native Oregon perennials, ferns and (possibly-toxic) shrubs to the group (fun gardeny easy happy part).

Fortunately the horrid part stands between me and the happy part or I would of course just skip to the happy.  Stay tuned.

About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in Pacific Northwest native plants, pruning, trees and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Yew too

  1. Ginny says:

    Our neighbor has a majestic old yew at the corner where our lot meets hers – I like to think of it as part mine.

  2. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Would you kindly provide dosages for the yew ingestion/heart stopping exercise. If one wished to off himself it would be handy information as most of us are success oriented when it comes to this issue. No comas, no vegetative state, you get the picture.

    One of these has volunteered in a shady bed in my garden and I’m loving watching it grow but realize that it’ll need to move back a little if it is the upright form. Or, following your advice, I could trim it into the shape of a chicken. Either way, I’m happy.

    • linniew says:

      Okay sure Peter, because I am the materials dispensary for offing oneself? (Silly Peter.) But please do go for the yew trimmed into a chicken topiary and post pictures. Oh and I do know you must start small with a tiny chick topiary at first. (And no not that kind of chick.)

  3. Holleygarden says:

    Love your list. I just adore yews, probably because they do not grow here (much, much too hot and dry – they turn brown then die in the summers – I know first hand). I hope it takes the transplant well now that it’s finally started to become happy and grow for you!

  4. Ricki Grady says:

    You make the blandest subjects hilarious. Why are you not published? I, for one, want to read that novel.

  5. Roberta says:

    I’m impressed that your gardening is so all-inclusive and takes on the tending of trees. The tallest thing I ever grew was okra – sure, it dreamed of being a tree but died at the first hint of cool weather. I do not have one remarkable tree on my property. Most, I cannot even identify and consider them hardly more than weeds. The only one that I am even a little fond of is a crepe myrtle way back along the fence near the cemetery. We have thorny mesquite that sprouts new thorny branches every year. The thorns could take an eye out if you’re not careful. Good luck with keeping the yew in check. I do think it’s adorable in its baby picture.

    • linniew says:

      But I could have sworn I saw a veritable woods around your chicken house in a blog image Roberta… Maybe it was taken someplace else? I’m not going to discuss c-myrtles because I spell it in a way that can be disturbing to some viewers. But mine are white and only sometimes bloom. Still jealous of your cemetery.

      • Roberta says:

        Ok, yes. There ARE trees around but I don’t know what kind they are. Maybe an oak of some sort – not majestic oaks, mind you, just some sort of sub-standard scraggly oaks and I’m not even sure if they are oaks, truth be told. There are a LOT of something that people around here call hackberry which are nothing more than a scourge upon the earth if you ask me. And I do believe there is a cedar entwined in the chain link that divides our property from the next.

        The crepe myrtle survived a near death experience when we first bought the property. I tasked the husband with whacking all the scraggly trees out of the tangle of wood that made up our backyard; the tangle of woods that was home to 7″ stick bugs and “water” bugs (that’s a euphemism for cockroaches here). When I went to check on his progress he had sawed a third of the way through the trunk of Myrtle before I realized it was the only tree worth keeping. She forgave us the transgression and has healed nicely.

        May your yew be free of waterbugs.

        • linniew says:

          Sometimes it just takes a while and then scraggly oaks get majestic, just like kids become big people… So glad the c. myrtle recovered… We had a cherry tree get scorched all on one side and the bark is healing over the burn just fine. I met up with some immense ‘water’ bugs in San Antonio once, very scary.

  6. b-a-g says:

    If you prune the top off, it would make a bouncy pouffe for Max … but maybe a potentially ancient tree should be treated with more respect.

    • linniew says:

      Okay b-a-g I did an image search for ‘bouncy pouffe’ and it seems to be mostly a footstool or ottoman. But Max has very short legs so he hardly needs foot support like that but still he says thanks. I do like “potentially ancient” but in regard to myself I think.

  7. We have one of those hundreds of years old yews and it is massive but I don’t think it’s the same species as yours. I also trimmed another yew into a tree form after receiving guidance from the deer who apparently like the tree form better because they ate all the bottom branches of the shrub. Maybe you could hire the local deer to prune your yew. Or better yet you can have some of mine. What’s your address?

    • linniew says:

      NO! I do have a nice assortment of deer/pruners but I try to keep them out. I will simply measure their teeth-height and go from there. [Nice try, Carolyn] xo L

  8. Alistair says:

    Linnie, I like you like Yew, in fact we have thin Yews fat Yews round Yews and even a hedge of ewes that is only 14 inches tall. I think it will be perfect with sods removed.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Alistair
      Your yew collection is extensive. I especially like the sound of the 14 inch tall hedge because it sounds so manageable. But I expect you know just how to prune them all– lucky yews.

  9. kininvie says:

    My word it’s a pleasure to see Roberta spelling crepe correctly – unlike some. Anyway, here’s an interesting fact for you – the oldest living thing in Europe is a yew tree, and, naturally, it lives in Scotland, in the village where Pontius Pilate was born (there’s another interesting fact). I have to say, having seen this ancient relic, that your young specimen is somewhat prettier. As for the horrid part, my advice is to raise some funds by getting an advance from your publisher, and spend them on hiring a husky Oregonian with muscles and blue jeans who will make short work of your de-turfing and allow you to move straight on to happiness….

    • linniew says:

      Hi Kininvie
      I dare not even imagine what’s been keeping you busy… Roberta spells that way because she lives in Texas right now. When she lived in California she spelled it “crape” like you’re supposed to. I congratulate Scotland on its ancient and Biblically significant yew. I see Jesus visited there too. And India. And even came to North America according to some–a busy time I guess. Still waiting for an advance, or a publisher for that matter. And actually most people in Oregon wear blue jeans–even the governor, and especially me in the garden.


      • kininvie says:

        You mean Amercians change their spelling depending on which state they live in? That’s seriously weird. I need to hear from Roberta on that, because I think you are making it up as an excuse for not getting it right about crepe. Also I have to say I’m not certain at all about the avatar….I feel commentarily challenged by it…sort of make my day punk, I dare you. But then I have severe psychosis in several varieties, so it’s probably just me.

        • linniew says:

          Well it is a very large country so yes there are differences. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t make it up.

          The OED (quoted online) defines psychosis as a “disorder that is accompanied by hallucinations, delusions or mental confusion and a loss of contact with external reality.” My goodness that’s terrible. Maybe I better make you some chicken soup.

  10. Hi Linnie Dear, As a fellow gardener and more importantly, as your writerly and otherwise friend, I must tell you a truth you’re probably already aware of but perhaps need to be reminded of: You don’t need to risk back injury by removing a few tons of clay-laden sod to create a bed for your natives–poison or otherwise. Just lay down cardboard or several layers of newspaper (I know it will look ugly and will confuse the hell out of Tilly but some things can’t be helped.) and let it smother the grass. Then throw several inches of soil or compost over it and voila, ready to plant. If you feel inclined to use chemicals you could spray the grass with Roundup (or something) first. … Your back will thank me.

    As for the Yew, it looks sweet exactly where you have it. Mine gets zero water during the summer and still thrives so I think they’re a versatile lot, except in Texas.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Gracie!
      Yes I think that layered paper idea is attractive and eventually I will give it a try, but I fear to kill the trees, especially the pines– I’ve seen big firs die from deep mulching. I have been doing a bit of work on this new bed and found pine roots very near the surface too. I love that you are saving me work and I will keep it in mind for next time!
      xo L

      • Rachelle says:

        I have been back-lurking your earlier posts to assure myself you are making good use of my gardener’s voice. I have to comment that I am so glad you expended the unmeasurable amount of back-breaking labor necessary to remove the sod by hand among your triumvirate of trees. I used the newspaper trick when I first established my long border and it did not kill the dreaded quack grass which has invaded my bed ever since. The quack was on the down low pretending he was something he was not, when in fact he had a darker side to him,,,oh wait, that was one of my former husbands. Never mind. Anyway, you do not want quack in you bed.

        • linniew says:

          Oh those former husbands, so many gardening metaphors apply… I’m still slowly creating the pine bed, but also planning to try the cardboard lasagna thing at some edges of the vegetable garden. I looked up quack grass online, just to see if you were making that UP, but no it’s real and omg I think it’s what I’ve been digging up for years too. Here’s to keeping quacks out of beds.

          • Rachelle says:

            Oh, I never make it up when talking about gardening. There’s enough material in the strange things we do to nature and it to us to keep me busy as is, specifically think of your “Electric Tree” post. Thanks for the warning on that, BTW. I am on the board here in my tiny village and have issued a cell tower operator temporary license in our industrial park for a tower on a movable platform. I will be sure to nix any electric tree ideas and speak to their silliness should a proposition for a permanent tower site disguised as a tree come into play.

  11. kininvie says:

    So, I need another book extract please. Or something.

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