With or Without Yew
For about 10 years, I’ve been plotting to get rid of the Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) in a corner of the Back Garden. Clearly, the plot has been unsuccessful so far. There are 2 reasons for this. First, I suffer from GFS (Garden Fretting Syndrome), whereby the afflicted experiences intense anxiety when faced with making choices about the garden. And second, what would the replacement be (asking this question is a symptom of GFS)?
The Japanese Yew is boring and ugly. It just doesn’t do anything, it looks the same all year long. And it has this dark and foreboding presence. Perhaps my dislike of the Yew is partly a reaction to its overuse as a suburban foundation plant.
On the other hand, it’s the only evergreen woody plant in the entire garden. Birds like using it for cover, though it seems to have little wildlife value otherwise. Also, it’s a big shrub that provides privacy by blocking much of the alley. It would leave quite a big hole if it were taken down. In fact, the fence would look pretty naked without it.
As for a replacement, I’ve been all over the map. The spot is in part shade with alkaline soil. It can get quite dry in summer.
I used the Morton Arboretum’s Northern Illinois Tree Selector to get some ideas. They came up with a number of suggestions that I didn’t like or were impracticable. For example:
- Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) or Shantung Maple (A. truncatum). Just not a good fit with the look of our garden.
- Seaside Alder (Alnus maritima). Do we look like we live by the seaside?
- Several Serviceberry species (Amelanchier sp.). Works for me, but Judy just doesn’t like the name “Serviceberry”. Maybe I could just tell her it’s a Juneberry, or even a Saskatoon? This would be truthful.
- Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus). I have 2 fringe trees out front and I like them. The problem is that I need to plant a fairly large specimen to prevent the Yew corner from looking too empty. I doubt I’ll find Fringe Trees at any of the local nurseries, so I’d have to order it online, which means starting with a fairly small tree.
- Actually, the same problem would apply to American Plum (Prunus americana), which I’d otherwise be interested in.
Of all the suggestions, there were three which held the most appeal:
- Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia). Has nice red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Shiny nuts are eaten by squirrels but poisonous to people. The only one of the 3 finalists native to North America.
- Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata). A hardy Magnolia with early white flowers. So early that the blooms are vulnerable to hard frosts, which is a concern.
- Peking Lilac ‘Morton’ (Syringa pekinensis). This is a small Tree Lilac developed at the Morton Arboretum, so it should be well adapted to the Chicago area. It’s also called ‘China Snow’ due to the white flowers. Judy and I both love that Lilac fragrance. The bark is supposed to be fairly ornamental.
So, do you have an opinion? Should we get rid of the Yew, or leave it be? And what about a replacement? Please respond soon, I feel my Garden Fretting Syndrome kicking in.