Painswick Yews

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 :)


  1. A churchyard of lollipops!

    I like yew more than box - though I've only been aware of it in Churchyards (and in more conventional shapes!). In part I like it 'cos I like it, in part because I associate it with country churchyards - which bring warm memories to mind - and in part because of it's connection with history, not so much folklore . . . more yeomen.


  2. What a marvellous churchyard. I love yew trees - I had the pleasure of visiting the oldest yew in the country last year - the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, which some estimate to be 5,000 years old. I don't believe it myself, but it's a nice story.

  3. Gorgeous trees, they are not common in Canada, and especially not that size and age. Too bad!

  4. Like large gumdrops on a stick--makes me smile.

  5. These are fun, but I despise yews and have done so ever since I was in my early teens and read about a pony being poisoned and dying from eating berries and branch tips from one. I won't have one on my property despite the odds of the horse or donkey choosing to escape, seek out and eat that plant (when they've never tried to eat anything in the yard but grass) are pretty low. It's just one of those things that scarred me for life. I like the golden form in OTHER people's yards, though.

    What fascinates me about toxic plants, however, is that something lethal to one animal doesn't bother another. Many yews in my part of the province look like your lollipops without having been pruned that way by humans. The deer have done it.

  6. yew trees are so comforting! like redwoods, they seem to root themselves backwards into history.

  7. What fine stately yews. Are those patches of white in the second photo snowdrops?

  8. What fun shapes and I love the tunnel. Yews are native here in Pacific Northwest Washington but usually only grown straight up as unpruned columns. I love your English tradition and folklore included in your posts! Thanks for the smile.

  9. VP you are not the only one! After we visited the Rococo garden we visited the village and I took photos of these yews. We are used to seeing yews in church yards but these are something special. As Jodi said Yew is poisonous to horses (and humans) which is one reason they are planted in church yards where which are surrounded by a wall (sometimes a fence) to protect the horses.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  10. They are such a satisfying deep green so always look good clipped or as a background to other plants. There is also a sense of age about them which is very appealing.

  11. and what about the fantastic yew hedge in Corsham at the top of the High Street? i love the way that's allowed to grow in the most weird and wonderful shape.

  12. I am a big fan of yews. Painswick looks magnificent. The best we can offer to compare is the wavy topiary at Barrier Park.

  13. Hi everyone - I'm glad you found these Yews as magnificent and as fun as I did :)

    Lu - I'd completely forgotten about Corsham - those Yews must have been the start of my revising my opinion of them.

    Colleen - thanks for the link. The Thames Barrier Park is on my list of places to visit :)


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