Traces Of The Past ~ The 330-Year-Old Hedge

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It’s hard to imagine that this gigantic bastion of ancient yew trees began three centuries ago as a formal terrace row, each tree cut into a neat, small cone or obelisk. Back then in the 1680s, when these trees were first planted, the taste in grand garden design was for the linear and geometric, following the French notion of strict plant control.

A hundred years later it was all change.  In keeping with the new romantic landscape style of English gardening, the yews were allowed to grow as they pleased. The aim was to create vistas of idealized nature.

But this more liberal attitude did not last either. Around the time of the yews’ two-hundredth birthdays, Victorian garden men armed with sickles and step ladders intervened, and began creating this  arboreal rampart of free-form topiary. Both fascinating and overbearing, I feel. The gardeners apparently hung onto to their ladders with one hand, while pruning and shaping with the other.

Today, the effect is still maintained by National Trust gardeners, now using electric hedge trimmers. Every year four of them start work in late August, and keep on trimming until mid-November – three months’ toil.

The yews are to be seen at one of the National Trust’s outstanding properties – Powis Castle, near Welshpool in Powys, just over the border from Shropshire. We called in there on our way home from our recent stay on the Mawddach Estuary in mid Wales. I’m afraid that on this occasion it was more for a good cup of coffee than for culture.

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The castle dates from around 1200 when it was the stronghold of the last Welsh princes of Powys. In the sixteenth century ownership passed to the English Herbert family who acquired the title Earl of Powis. Indeed, they appeared to have acquired it on three separate occasions through history until the title eventually stuck fast to the family.

One of the Herbert daughters married the son of Clive of India (Robert Clive 1725-1774) – he who plundered the subcontinent under the auspices of the British East India Company. The Clive fortune paid for repair and development of the castle, and Robert Clive’s collection of valuable arts works gathered during his India days are on display there. You can tell I have very mixed feelings about this. But scruples aside, the house is well worth seeing and it contains many treasures.

The garden, though, is the best part. The setting is magnificent, with stunning views of the Welsh borderland. A whole day (and indeed several days at different seasons) could be spent exploring the many layered terraces, the lawns and woodland walks. The planting is on an epic scale with many unusual herbaceous varieties deployed. Specialist garden history talks are also available, and when energy flags (and as intimated earlier) there’s a good restaurant-tea room for re-charging purposes. Although to be on the safe, take your own picnic as well. It’s a long way from the grand lawn to the courtyard refreshment station.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Please visit Paula at Lost in Translation for more traces of the past. This theme is going to be regular every-other-month challenge on her blog, which is good news. Thank you, Paula. I have lots more traces in my archive.

40 thoughts on “Traces Of The Past ~ The 330-Year-Old Hedge

  1. Keeping that hedge in order is almost as ongoing a job as keeping the Sydney Harbour Bridge painted! What a story demonstrating the changing fashions in gardening. Your colouring is superbly right, and your history as always told with colloquial flair, and a sense of personal familiarity with historical figures.

  2. My vote is for idealized nature 🙂 Excellent perspectives of this quirk castle, Tish. I am very happy that you’ve joined the challenge. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful. Another I have never visited.

    Funny, isn’t it? Rob a bank they give you goal time.
    Plunder a country they give you a title and a pension for life.

    For Queen and Country, what?

  4. Another place I didn’t visit enough when so close, never did get to see inside as I always headed for the garden. Interesting processing here, I like it.

  5. Re your scruples about the fruits of the plunder. It’s true that much beauty has been preserved from the plunder (by the British Empire, by the Church, the Florentine empire, etc, etc, all the “great” empires of history) and much beauty created. At least they planted the trees. Striking photo.

    1. Yes they did plant trees, which has to be good. But I discovered from seeing some old Shropshire photos that the native trees that were plundered en masse were like no trees that have been seen in my life time. Absolutely massive oaks. Most went for the defence of the nation of course – building ships for the navy. And for trade of course. And for railway sleepers. Even by the tim of Elizabeth 1 there was a conflict of tree use between iron-masters and ship builders, and Elizabeth offered a prize for anyone who could find a way to use coal to smelt iron because she feared there would not be enough trees to maintain the fleet (and all the ships of her privateers no doubt). That breakthrough of course happened in Shropshire at Coalbrookdale 1609 though the technology didn’t take hold for another 40 years. And here endeth my essay on trees 🙂

      1. It must be quite strange. I saw old yew trees in Ireland. They are very strange trees – they seem to have an aura about them.

  6. I really love that last shot, Tish! Beautiful 🙂 Not too long since I was at Raby Castle where they have a very similar 300 year old yew hedge. Nice to see it has a friend. 🙂

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