Tuesday, 01 March 2016 00:00

Maintaining the Yew Maze at Hever Castle

    Hever Castle’s 100 year old Yew maze was originally created by William Waldorf Astor who believed that this feature would assist him to become a part of English aristocracy. Head Gardener at Hever Castle, Neil Miller, enlightens Inex on the upkeep that he undertakes on a daily basis to keep this historical feature immaculate in its settings.

    Neil Miller instigated his career in the City of London as a Lloyd’s broker. Unfortunately he was made redundant in the early 1990s. This unfortunate event persuaded Neil to take a career change and follow a passion he held onto for many years. Neil moved his career into the horticultural industry; he went to college to study for his RHS qualifications, started his own gardening business for a few years, and shortly after took up a placement with Hever Castle in 2002. Neil managed to move through the ranks at Hever Castle and has now successfully been maintaining the picturesque castle gardens as Head Gardener for almost 10 years.

    The Yew maze is one of Hever Castle’s main attractions and, alongside Hever Castle itself, holds significant historic value. The maze dates back 100 years to when it was first created by American-born Politician, Businessman and Newspaper Publisher, William Waldorf Astor who purchased Hever Castle in 1903. William designed this maze back in 1904, only one year after purchasing the prestigious castle and its surrounding gardens.

    Today, Neil maintains this remarkable feature which is an integral part of Hever Castle’s Tudor Garden. The Yew maze itself is produced from English yew, taxus baccata, which according to Neil is “one of the best hedges to use when it comes to maze design. Due to the plant belonging to the evergreen family, the hedges are well-formed when trimmed, and sufficiently solid which prevents shortcuts or views through the hedges”. English yew is a slower growing hedge, the dark clipped foliage gives the impression of a solid wall and is also tolerant of abuse – perfect for its purpose.

    The maze itself comprises over 1000 yew trees and covers an area of 80ft². Neil and his dedicated team cut back The Yew Maze once a year in late August/September to maintain the perfect symmetry that this maze contains.

    Neil advises: “The primary task for the upkeep of a maze is a good annual cut – depending on which plant is used. Keeping the pathways regularly decompacted after heavy use can be achieved by spiking the ground with a garden fork, enabling air to move in and around the roots. Keeping the maze weed-free and giving the maze an early Spring feed with a good fertilizer, will keep a maze in tip-top condition.”

    Having a garden maze as part of your personal garden scheme will certainly make a statement, making your garden stand out above the rest. When it comes to the design of a garden maze, it is essential that all mazes are initially created on paper with precise details and measurements. They must be checked and double-checked before you even attempt to plant out – mistakes can prove to be very costly. “A maze hedge can be trimmed using your naked-eye, but for shear perfection, and guaranteed sharpness, here at Hever Castle we use ranging poles and a line,” advises Neil.

    In the Winter months, The Yew Maze holds up well, with the only exception being in the days of heavy snowfall; any snow laying on the hedge must be brushed off. Heavy snowfall can damage the maze due to the weight of the snow’s pressure on the hedge. Neil expressed: “The Yew Maze looks its best during the months of May, June and July. This is the time when we feed the yew with a high-nitrogen feed with chicken pellets, which creates wonderful lush green new growth.”

    The flooring found within The Yew Maze comprises of beech shingle, which is spread evenly over the pathways, this serves several purposes it keeps the ground well-drained, weed-free and prevents compaction.

    Luckily The Yew Maze does not suffer from any pest issues; the only problems that the maze does suffer from is damage caused by the general public trying to take shortcuts through the hedges. To try and elevate this Neil and his team have innovatively installed a four foot wire fence either side of the hedges and are allowing the hedge to slowly grow into it.

    The Yew Maze is a haven for wildlife. The blackbirds and thrushes thrive on the berries and the tight, neat growth is an ideal habitat for nesting birds.

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