Gardening: Millennium Trees

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PLANTING A tree seems to be one of the few sensible things you can do to celebrate the millennium. You may guess from this remark that the millennium does not feature high on my agenda. It's only a number for heaven's sake. I worry about those 16 days that were lost in the 1600s. If we are celebrating two thousand years of the sun's rising and setting since Christ was born, then surely the shouting ought not to start until 16 January?

However, each month this year, I shall be recommending a tree that is fine enough to stand the passage of time. Before you plant, think forward. And make sure you give a tree space enough to breathe.

No 1: Yew

One of our few native evergreens; slow, stalwart, long-lived and capable of resprouting from the most unprepossessing old wood. This characteristic has, in the past, made the yew a favourite choice for garden hedges. It is even more beautiful as a tree, when the trunk, after rain, takes on the rich oxblood colour of mahogany. The tensile strength that made yew the favourite choice of English archers wanting new bows, is an advantage in storm and tempest.

Look at the venerable trees in the churchyards at Tandridge in Surrey, or Brockenhurst, Hampshire, or Hughenden in Buckinghamshire. This is the present you can give to future generations.

Choose the common yew, Taxus baccata, or perhaps one of its named variants such as `Dovastoniana'. This is named after a Mr Dovaston of West Felton in Shropshire, who bought the seedling from a pedlar for sixpence and planted in his garden in 1777. Its distinguishing characteristic is its habit, the foliage hanging down from the main branches in swaying curtains. It is available from The Conifer Garden, Hare Lane Nursery, Little Kingshill, Great Missenden, Bucks HP16 0EF (01494 890624).