Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yew and I need to talk

This morning there were two men pulling a young over sheared hedge of Yews out of a front yard. They were using a tiny backhoe, chains, and shovels. There were flags marking power and cable lines. The shrubs were coming out with relative ease. I flashed back to one of my least favorite times in gardening.

I love the labor of gardening. I like the overall ache of my body after a long day digging. Of all of the landscaping, gardening, and other outdoor tasks I've ever done, pulling old Yews (Taxus sp.) from a yard is my least favorite.

Yews are highly durable, very disease resistant, and have been used to create anti-cancer drugs. These little plants can grow to 25' trees when left to their own devices. They are however incredibly adept at adapting to anything including 50 years of heavy shearing. How do I know this? My neighborhood was built some 50 years ago and back then, perhaps still now, planting yews along the foundation of the house was the thing to do. These little guys have been being sheared year-after-year to make that perfect LEGO square hedge. The problem is that they still manage to make a little gain in size every year.

My first house was a duplex, the yews were 5 high, by 5 feet deep, and 30 feet long on both halves covering the bottom half of the windows. The problem? I'm only 5'5" tall. Standing in the middle of the hedge, electric shears held over my head, reaching as far as I can to recreate that lovely shape got old after one year. I made the executive decision...they had to go.

There were only 4 shrubs that made up this hedge on each side. I was sure this would go easy. I laugh now at was a sweet a notion. Two days, 4 friends, a little beer, and a comical visit from a neighbor later and they were out. Tadaa!

What I learned from the process:
  • Only use sharp tools, it seems obvious, but you'd be surprised at the butter-knife quality chain saws friends own
  • When a neighbor comes by to see what you are doing, tells you about a really nice saw he has, shows it to you, then says you can't use it, remember that he is armed with the really nice saw and just say thanks.
  • Be nice to your friends
  • Feed your friends
  • Lie to your friends about how easy it is going to be
  • There is a water spigot on each side in the front of the duplex


  1. I remember that day like it was yesterday. :) I certainly didn't put in as much work as the other guys in trying to rip those out, but I did learn that I'd never plant a Yew in a place where I didn't want it forever.

    Great story.

  2. I've pulled overgrown Yews out with a shovel on three different properties. I will likely never do it again without a rental backhoe. I'd like to keep my friends. :)

  3. Never occurred to me to use a backhoe! But a 15" WW spade works quite well too!:)


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