Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Pencil Yew

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My trio of pencil yews always stands tall despite the snow.  'Flushing' is the biggest pencil yew, and I wouldn't create a garden without it.  It's a narrow cultivar, but not quite this narrow.  Deer got into the garden a couple of Winters ago, and nibbled all the foliage below five feet.  You can see from the mushroom tops how wide these 'Flushing' yews would have been otherwise.  I'll prune the tops in Spring so that the growth is evenly narrow top to bottom.  See "Downsides" below for strategies to prevent deer damage.

 

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Thanks to the "pruning" of the needles that the deer managed to do, the vertical branches of 'Flushing' are still on display.  'Flushing' is unusual among shrubs that are particularly narrow, in that it (almost) never splays open even when the snow is heavy.  This is the pencil-shaped evergreen to plant if you don't want the hassle of tying the shrub together each Fall to protect it from snow load.

 

 

Here's how to grow this exceptionally tall and narrow yew:


Latin Name

Taxus x media 'Flushing'

Common Name

Pencil yew

Family

Taxaceae, the Yew family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen conifer.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 7.

Habit

Strongly upright; all the main branches are vertical.

Rate of Growth

Medium. 

Size in ten years

Eight to ten feet tall and a foot wide.  Ultimately twelve to fifteen feet tall and three feet wide.

Texture

Dense but not solid; the needles grow thickly from the stems, but there are always gaps between stems. 

Grown for

its habit:  'Flushing' is the tallest of the pencil yews, and achieves its height without either formative or maintenance pruning.  There are even narrower "pencils," such as 'Beanpole', but they remain shorter; the taller columnar yews become much wider, and to maintain their "broadly narrow" habit they need some pruning as well as Fall tying-up to withstand snowload.

Flowering season

Yews flower in Spring; the flowers are not showy.  Plants are either male or female, and some entire cultivars are exclusively one sex or the other.  Only females bear the bright red arils—not a fruit, not a berry—each of which partially encloses a single seed.

Color combinations

'Flushing' carries dark green needles, which go with anything.  Its red fruits are not so large or numerous as to skew its color compatibility away from any other color—although, of course, they are a natural, if subtle, partner to plants that celebrate red, orange, and burgundy.

Partner Plants


'Flushing' yews are paired with other horticulture more on the basis of their scale and form than their somber dark green color.  That said, any geometrically-inspired combination that can also contrast with the yew's dark green needles will be an even stronger one.  If the soil is rich enough for ferns—but still, mind you, well-drained enough for the yew—what could be more exciting than to have the narrow columns of 'Flushing' arising from the bright-green fronds of a sweep of cinnamon ferns.  Or from the brightly-variegated foliage of hostas or five-leaf aralia or ivy.


'Flushing' is also effective arising from plantings that are more detailed and varied, where its form brings a welcome solidity and simplicity.  If those surrounding plantings are deciduous, 'Flushing' can be relied on to maintain integrity of form and evergreenity through the cool months.

Where to use it in your garden

Yews can live for many generations.  It's not possible to count growth rings accurately because the centers of old trunks tend to rot out even while the trees themselves continue to carry on century after century.  But even by conservative consensus, the oldest yews are thought to be entering their third millenium.  By contrast, a tree that is perhaps more commonly thought of as the epitome of venerable grandeur, the European beech, is a doddering oldster at 150 years.  It has matured and died while a young yew was still working up the nerve to ask someone to the high school prom. 

 

So you can site yews with one eye on what you need them to do in the next five, ten, and twenty years—and the other on what they might do in the next five, ten, and twenty centuries.  It's not often that gardening can create a bond between the present and the unknowably distant future.  

 

Pencil yews are so naturally narrow that they could form a hedge that's at once free-range but also strikingly tall and wafer-thin.  They're tall enough that they could be "sentinelled" down even the longest border.  Or they could be planted as a grove, as living sculpture that could remain living centuries beyond any memory of you, your descendents, or your planting of a group of pencil yews in what, by then, would be the unknowably distant past.

Culture

Full sun, part sun, or half shade.  Growth is sparser and slower in shade.  Almost any soil, provided that it's very well drained.

How to handle it:  The Basics

'Flushing' yews are easy to establish, and thrive in almost any exposure and soil as long as the soil is well-drained.  Colder than Zone 7, plant in Spring only.

 

They need no pruning to achieve or maintain their strikingly tall and narrow shape; unlike so many other shrubs of similar shape, they don't even need tying in the Winter to preserve them against heavy snow.  They need only be sited well, then left to handle the future themselves. 

 

To plant in a group, pay attention to the plant's ultimate height and width.  I planted my trio of 'Flushing' yews too closely; to retain their individuality even when they have achieved their ultimate width of three feet, they should have been planted a minimum of four feet apart on-center.  Five or six feet apart would have been even better.  I'll need to keep mine pruned if they're to retain their individuality—or I'll need to move them farther apart.  

 

To plant 'Flushing' yews as sentinels amid lower shrubs, perennials, and grasses, space them farther apart—and farther and farther apart relative to the overall size of the planting.  Try for eight feet apart in smaller settings where there might be room for a line (or a gentle curve) of only three of them.  In more spacious circumstances, plant every ten, twelve, or even fifteen feet apart, with the goal of a line of a minimum of five yews.  If you're planting to the horizon—and for the millenium—plant yews twenty feet apart, with the goal of a line of seven or more.  And please, invite me to lunch so I can congratulate you on your vision personally.

 

When planting 'Flushing' yews with comparatively shorter horticulture beneath and around them, take care that the young yews aren't shaded out before they can grow tall enough to be securely higher than their neighbors.  Especially if their near neighbors are the bright-colored deciduous or herbaceous plants that would be such a thrilling contrast, such partnering horticulture will mature much faster than the yews and could overwhelm small starter plants.  'Flushing' is rarely available in any size; more likely, you'll be planting yews that are a foot or two tall at the highest.  Give each yew a tall marker stake so you don't forget to keep its surrounding horto-excitement at bay during the years before the yews have at last outgrown the competition.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?


If a remarkably narrow and tall evergreen hedge is your goal, 'Flushing' is the means to your end.  The shrubs are painfully skinny when young—four-foot specimens might still be just six inches wide—so unless you've the patience of Job in waiting for dense screening, you'll need to plant 'Flushing' yews as close together as you can afford.  Planting one every foot wouldn't be overkill, although, yes, it does run into money.  If Aunt Tilly has finally gone to her reward and left mere earthly lucre to you, array young plants of 'Flushing' in two rows, with the root-balls of the individuals of one row touching those of the other but staggered so that each row fills the gaps in the other. 

 

Remember, also, that yews don't tolerate even middling drainage let alone poor drainage.  Help ensure that your young (and expensive) hedge handles surface water with dispatch, by planting the hedge down the center of a low mound two feet wide and six inches high.  You'll also be giving your hedge a six-inch head start in height, too.

Quirks or special cases


None.

Downsides

It's a grim irony that while Taxus plants are intensely toxic to livestock, deer chew them with relish.  Few of us will ever need worry that Flossie will get loose and come to a sad end by munching on our yews.  But who except a city gardener doesn't need to deal with deer?  Unprotected yew plants can be stripped of foliage.  Protect by netting them, or spraying with deer repellent, or—best of all—fencing in your garden.

 

Yews tolerate hot sun as well as substantial shade; acid soil as well as alkaline; shallow soil as well as deep.  But they do not tolerate poor drainage.  In heavy soil or if the planting area is flat regardless of soil character, it's best, if possible, to plant yews on a low but broad mound, even if it's only a few inches high.

Variants

There aren't many species of yew, but nearly all of them are very productive.  There are over two hundred cultivars with Taxus baccata as one of the parents; when they also involve T. cuspidata—like 'Flushing' does—they are termed Taxus x media.  These combine the interesting habits and needle colors of T. baccata, which is hardy only down to Zone 6, with the much greater hardiness of T. cuspidata, hardy to Zone 4.  T. canadensis is hardier still, but its foliage, which bronzes severely in the cold, is considered inferior.  T. brevifolia is a West Coast species whose biggest contribution to date is as a source of taxol, an anti-cancer drug.

 

Yew habits range from dwarf (T. baccata 'Pygmaea') to low and spreading (T. baccata 'Repandens') to lowish and bushy (T. cuspidata 'Densa') to squat but upright (T. x media 'Hatfieldii') to narrow and upright ('Flushing' and many others) to fat but still upright (T. baccata 'Fastigiata') to immense and tree-like (T. cuspidata).  Forms with golden as well as white-edged needles exist.  T. baccata 'Standishii' is the best of the upright gold-needled forms; it's astoundingly slow.  I also have T. baccata 'Fastigiata Aurea', which becomes immense if given fifty years or so.  'Amersfoort' has green leaves that are a quarter the usual length.

 

Yews are so serviceable and flexible that they will always be in demand in landscapes.  And they hybridize as well as mutate readily.  There will never be a dearth of new cultivars to evaluate.

Availability

On-line and, rarely, at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

Taxus baccata is native to Europe, north Africa, and west Asia.  T. cuspidata is native to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. 

 
 
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