Until I started blogging I didn't really have much time for Yew trees. They seemed rather dark green and dreary and were mainly to be found in churchyards. My discovery of places like The Courts and them gossiping on the lawn has helped to change my mind, as did the marvellously shaped ones at Powis Castle. I now love them for their structural and medicinal qualities. I usually can't help giggling when I see them and I'm all for a touch of garden humour.
When we visited Painswick Rococo Garden recently, I didn't know I was in for a horticultural surprise before we got there. St Mary's church in the middle of the village has around 100 yews of all shapes and sizes in the churchyard. Most of them are paired along the paths and clipped into lollipop shapes, though some have also been allowed to join overhead, particularly at exit and entrance points. Quite a number are proudly sponsored by local businesses with a little plaque nailed to the trunk to say so. Whilst I was there, plenty of chattering sparrows were seeking out potential nesting sites tucked well away inside the foliage with the occasional cheeky one popping its head outside to check on my progress.
According to Wikipedia, local folklore says that the churchyard will never have more that 99 trees as the Devil will pull out the hundredth. However records at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London show 103 trees and the parish map has 100 trees marked on it. I would defy the casual visitor to do more than come up with an estimate (mine was 100): there are so many paths and quite a few of the yews are most tunnel-like, so it's quite easy to get lost and lose count.
Yew trees are commonly associated with churches because they're rooted deeply into our folklore and pre-Christian traditions. Yews were a common meeting place for community ceremonies, so the early Christians adopted these places, then built their churches right by them and continued to plant them subsequently. It means many of the massive churchyard yew trees seen today are amongst our oldest trees in the UK.
And whilst I've seen many churchyard yews in my time, there's nothing quite like the ones at Painswick :)