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Yew

Taxus baccata

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Yew
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Our yew tunnel is one of the best-known landscape features at Melbourne Hall Gardens. It was planted in 1710 as part of the scheme laid out by the Right Honorable Thomas Coke, then owner of Melbourne hall. The tunnel was described in the book The Garden of England as ‘The Dark Arbour’, due to the impenetrable vault of branches overhead. It was originally formed over a man-made frame and extended 100 yards, ending with a fountain, but later, to dramatic effect, it was extended a further 80 yards.

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This beautiful evergreen is a conifer native to western, central and southern Europe, northwest Africa, northern Iran and southwest Asia, although it’s known as the Common, English or European yew.

Yew trees frequently reach 400 to 600 years of age; however, some specimens live much longer. There are ten yews in Britain that are believed to predate the 10th century, and the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, Scotland, is thought to be between 2,000 – 3000 years old.

The age of yews is challenging to determine accurately and is often the subject of dispute. It is rare for any wood as old as the entire tree to remain, and the boughs often hollow with age, making it impossible to count the rings. Evidence based on growth rates and archaeological work of surrounding structures is commonly used to help date these wonderful trees.

All parts of the yew tree, except for the flesh of the berries (red arils), are toxic to humans. The needles are so poisonous that they can be fatal if ingested.  A ‘Dark Arbour’ indeed!

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All photography copyright © Andrea Jones

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