Photo of the Week: Trimming the World’s Biggest Yew Hedge Is a Righteous Pain

The world’s largest yew hedge stands on a historic estate in the tiny village of Cirencester, England. It measures 40 feet tall, 30 feet across at its widest point and 450 feet long from end to end. And every August, it gets a great big haircut.

It took groundskeepers Jason Buckton and John Rutterford 10 days to trim the gargantuan hedge ringing Bathurst Estate. Leaning out of a blue cherry picker, the men used electric hedgers to clip clip clip away roughly 50,000 square feet of greenery. Nearly one ton of clippings fell in great piles across the sheeting laid out to catch them below.

Allen Bathurst, the hedge owner and ninth earl of Bathurst, enjoys watching the operation from his window each year. “You’ve got to get the shape right,” he says. His great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather planted the English yew sometime in the early 1700s. As a child, Bathurst remembers seeing three gardeners atop 50-foot ladder complete the annual trimming, wrapping their legs around the rungs for safety. The cherry picker makes things safer, if not easier. “Depending on the weather you’re either going to be very wet or very hot up there,” the ninth earl says. “Quite often they’ll have a Pimms umbrella up on the top of the platform to keep off the rain or sun.”

Buckton and Rutterford finished the job Thursday, sweeping the clippings into huge fertilizer bags to keep livestock from grazing on them. Some years they sell the trimmings, other times they simply light an enormous bonfire. “It burns quite well because of the oil in it,” says Bathurst. “It sizzles nicely.”

The laborious process keeps the hedge in tip-top shape for everyone to admire. Well, almost everyone. “People look at it and go, ‘My goodness me that’s quite a hedge!’” Bathurst says. “But I look at it out the window and go, ‘Oh. It’s still there.’” At that size, how could you miss it?

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