Though much of the colour of summer is now a distant memory, the shades of autumn continue to add to the beauty of our site. Once again we were visited by a local art group who were able to relax and draw our garden in its golden overcoat. We are fortunate in having ‘inherited’ several different species of trees and shrub, and have already added to the mix to help us create a garden fit for the future. One example is the yew saplings we planted this time last year, near the garden shelter, which when mature will add structure and colour for many years [See below for more about Yew]. Yews are densely branched, offering protection and nesting possibilities for small birds, and the fruits are a food source for other birds and small mammals. Even the leaves, toxic to most creatures (including humans), are eaten by some caterpillars!
An ancient yew tree (courtesy of Woodland Trust)
November is always exciting for us, because it is time for the annual Royal Horticultural Society ‘In Bloom’ Awards. I was very pleased to attend the awards ceremony, held in Southport, to see the Bath House & Physic Garden awarded Grade 5, Outstanding. This was the second year running that we attained the highest award possible, other than the cup itself! It was also an opportunity to put our display boards to good use, showing a wider audience what we are doing.
In Bloom awards
The following day brought more good news for the whole town of Congleton, which won Gold in North West in Bloom as well as Best Large Town in the North West 2017. As a contributing garden, we were delighted to have helped in these achievements. Next year Congleton will be competing in the national Britain in Bloom 2018. Well done to all those who have once again put hundreds of hours into creating such an outstanding floral town.
We have had quite a busy year for events, and November was no exception, with a fund-raising music concert in the ancient coaching inn, The Lion and Swan. First on stage was the excellent local singer songwriter Dougie Francis, followed by the equally good Punkfloyd, a local Pink Floyd tribute band. In between we had music from DJ Sweet and poetry from Sean Worth. Thank you to all concerned for giving their time free of charge, helping us to raise £150 towards our funds.
PunkFloyd in action
Yew Taxus baccata
There are only three native evergreen conifers in the British Isles: Yew, Juniper and Scots Pine. However, since it has no resin, and does not produce cones, the Yew is not a true conifer. Each seed is held in a separate fleshy ‘aril’, like a bright red cup-shaped berry, open at the top. All parts of the tree are highly poisonous, except the flesh of the arils, but even the seeds they contain are also extremely toxic.
Densely branched, yew trees live for hundreds or even thousands of years, probably longer than any other European tree. Left alone they often grow wider than they are tall, but can be trimmed for hedging or clipped into fantastic topiary. Many still survive in forests, and they are popularly found in city parks, (the Victorians loved planting trees), on large country estates, and in many churchyards. Locally, you can see an ancient yew at the parish church of St Mary in Astbury village. And, at Little Moreton Hall, the National Trust are currently restoring a yew hedge, somewhat younger but also interesting.
There has been some scientific dispute over how to measure their longevity, as most old yews become hollow, so trunk rings cannot be counted in the traditional method. But yews are recorded, strangely misshapen as they might be, as over a thousand years old. Yews produce aerial roots to support the crown as the heartwood decomposes, which can develop into a firm new trunk within the old hollow shell, thereby prolonging its life.
Myth and Magic
Because of its evergreen quality and longevity, the yew has long been an emblem of everlasting life in both pagan and Christian belief. Branches of yew symbolising resurrection and new life have also decorated churches at Easter and New Year.
Shakespeare called it ‘the dismal yew’ and his witches bore ‘slips of yew slivered in the moon’s eclipse’. It was associated with doom and death, perhaps understandably!
Yew trees were probably important in druidic rituals, such as Beltane, and yet they are grown in many churchyards. There is a wide range of theories about these churchyard yews, quite fascinating but too many for me to include here. If you’d like to find out for yourself, start by looking at the entry for Yew in Richard Mabey’s Flora Britannica; and also at this website: http://www.ancient-yew.org
Yew trees contain poisonous alkaloids, called taxanes, which in recent years have been developed into powerful anti-cancer drugs. The very first taxane drug was made from the leaves of our (European) Yew, and then taxanes from the bark of Pacific yews were developed into a second drug. Taxanes can now be created synthetically, but yew leaves are still used in the process. Specialist firms collect them, and the National Trust, for instance, provides them with yew hedge trimmings for this purpose.
Homeopathic yew tree products are also available, and other remedies have been made in the past for asthma, bronchitis, hiccup, indigestion, rheumatism and epilepsy.
Never make a home remedy with any part of the yew tree. Fatalities have been recorded from even a small dose.
The wood is very hard and durable, and polishes well. It was used widely for long bows in the Middle Ages, as well as being a popular choice for furniture-making to this day.
Acknowledgements Thanks for much of the information above to