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.)
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.
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.
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.