Yew Gotta Be Kidding Me
posted by Allyson Scott
I hadn’t realized the yew hedge at the front of the house was winning the battle. For nearly 13 years I’d tried to tame its growth spurts, and yet somehow it was still taller, wider, and just generally bushier than ever before.
This type of landscaping feature is called a “foundation planting”, an old-fashioned way of covering up unsightly home foundations that has grown less common over time. It took a friend commenting that it was a little outdated to make me see it with fresh eyes.
Over the years I had loved that it provided year-round greenery, that it supported Halloween decorations and Christmas lights, and during Covid was also a handy way to camouflage deliveries from Amazon, or porch happy hours!
That being said, in winter the snow would pile up to ridiculous heights, and needed to be shovelled off so as not to break the branches. In spring the boughs held on to road dirt and pollen, releasing clouds into the air as we brushed past it. Throughout the year it required constant vigilance with clippers to ensure the railing was usable, and we could continue to see out the living room window!
As spring arrived and I faced yet another daunting pruning session, I looked back at a photo of the house when we bought it. There was no denying the yew was winning.
I started by clipping off all of the greenery on the smaller shrub, figuring if I had second thoughts it might still be able to recover.
I took a few days to consider the results, and obtained some second opinions. The consensus was to go boldly forward, and so with the help of my neighbours and their power tools, the deed was done.
My neighbour Chris used his chainsaw to sever the branches from the stumps, and I used a lopper to break them down into manageable pieces. After stuffing more than a dozen bags, I realized that I had underestimated not only the effort required in the hedge removal, but also in the hedge disposal.
Over the next couple of days, I cheerfully stuffed my trusty CR-V to the roof with the remains of the yew, and made some trips to the Bermondsey Transfer Station.
Little did I realize that all of the previous manual labour was just the tip of the iceberg. I called a few professionals to take on the stump removal job, and was frustrated to hear they were booked up for weeks – nor did I really want to spend the several hundred dollars it would cost. I desperately wanted to move some other plants before they began to bloom, and so I thought to myself, “how hard could this be?”
The first step was to dig around the stumps to expose the arm-like roots, which I then severed with a hatchet. I spent an hour or two almost every day for two weeks working at this, becoming increasingly determined, and triumphantly raising the severed roots over my head like trophies. Which, in fact, they were!
At times it felt like an archaeological site, digging a new area, exposing a root, determining the depth to which I was willing to go, trying to get a good angle for hatchet whacking…and avoiding the rocks that kept cropping up to further complicate matters.
When all the limbs were gone, and only the main stumps remained, I borrowed my neighbour’s pole chainsaw to make the final cuts, and heaved the stumps onto the driveway. The curse words may have been followed by a few thumps on my own chest.
Had I known what a hard wood the yew was, how long it would take, and how difficult it would be, I likely would have waited and left it to the professionals. However, I have to admit there is a serious sense of accomplishment in doing this all myself!
Now the new issue to contend with is the state of the porch and the bricks that were hidden behind the shrub for a few decades! Stay tuned for “Stories of an Angle Grinder”…