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

False Podocarpus

taxus-baccata-amersfoort-finger-640

 

One of the favorite "What is it?" shrubs.  Ironically, the more you know the more likely you are to guess wrong.  No, this bush is not a miracle—the most northerly individual ever of a New Zealand evergreen, Podocarpus nivalis, the "snow" totara.  To which, in truth, this shrub bears an uncanny resemblance.  Every plant geek wants to grow Podocarpus where they're not hardy; it's all the more maddening that, where they are, they tend to get used as hedges and windscreens and foundation shrubs, and nobody pays them much attention.

 

This shrub is wieid, but not that weird.  It's a mutant yew that was discovered in Amersfoort, Holland, on the grounds of a big mental hospital there.  The puns are irresistible:  Yes, this yew really is "crazy."  Unlike every other yew, its needles grow from all sides of the stems.  The needles of "normal" yews grow in two ranks only, one on one side of the stem, the other on the other. 

 

I'd still grow this bush even if Amersfoort were just a town near Omaha, and it had mutated in a parking-lot planting island at the Walmart. 

 

taxus-baccata-amersfoort-tip-640

 

The tiny needles, smallest of any yew, ensure that 'Amersfoort' is always open no matter how twiggy the bush becomes.  Plant this quirky shrub just a foot or so from a pathway—it doesn't ever grow wider than three or four feet, nor taller than four or five—so you can enjoy its appealing oddity close at hand.  And so you can stump your know-it-all visitors.

 

 

Here's how to grow this delightfully weird evergreen:


Latin Name

Taxus baccata 'Amersfoort'

Common Name

False Podocarpus

Family

Taxaceae, the Yew family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 8.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and naturally bushy, eventually taller than wide.

Rate of Growth

Slow.

Size in ten years

Two to three feet wide and four to five feet tall.

Texture

Open and arresting, thanks to the extremely short leaves, which, despite the bushiness of the plant's growth, do little to fill it in to make a dense screen.  The needles are visible almost to the center of unpruned bushes regardless of their size or age. 

Grown for

its foliage:  For a yew, the dark green needles are unique for two reasons.  At only a few millimeters long and half as many wide, they're by far the smallest of any yew.  Also, while they are arranged in a yew's typical habit, in opposite pairs, each pair is a bit rotated from the axis of the pair above and below it, giving each branch the look of a really slender bottlebrush.  "Normal" yew needle-pairs on a given branch are all in the same orientation, growing in a flat line-up on either side of the stem.

 

its bark, which is an unusual orange-brown bark when the bush is older. 

Flowering season

Late Spring: The inflorescences are not showy, though.   

Color combinations

'Amersfoort' foliage is dark green, and so goes with everything.

Partner plants

The bush's minute leaves and twiggy-but-still-open habit deserve all possible highlighting.  Could there be larger and lighter foliage at the back?  Then the bush would show up in silhouette.  'Sum and Substance' hosta, say?  Or a low but large-leaved groundcover?  (The bush will almost certainly be small when you buy it, so don't let it become swamped.)  Canadian ginger, Asarum canadense?  Allegheny spurge, Pachysandra procumbens?  Or the prostrate but bright-leaved creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'.  Yews are so happy in sweet soil that you could even consider growing 'Amersfoort' in a bed that you'd mulched with white gravel, which is usually limestone, what's usually added to soil to raise its pH.  (When applied for that reason alone, it's purchased ground to a powder, but it has some effect even when used as a gravel mulch.)       

Where to use it in your garden

Although Taxus baccata 'Amersfoort' is as tolerant of pruning as any yew, its uniquely dense-but-open habit and the 360-array of its tiny needles are both on best display when the bush is allowed to grow free-range.  This is not the yew for the classic yew assignments of hedges or topiary. 

 

The growth overall isn't so consisistent, one individual to the next, that the bush could lend itself to the kind of telling repetition in the way of, say, vertical yews like Taxus 'Vermeulen' or 'Bean Pole'.  They have a bush-to-bush-to-bush uniformity that is thrilling in any regular configuration, be it as a pair flanking a walkway, lining either side of an avenue, or as a quartet marking a crossing or the corners of a terrace.

 

'Amersfoort', though, has none of these sculptural or geometric talents; its forte is to be used individually, as a specimen.  Its tiny needles and their unique array demand that it be sited close to a pathway or lawn, so that you can appreciate everything at close range, and even under low magnification.  Plant no farther than two or three feet from the front edge of the bed.

Culture

Full sun to medium shade, in almost any soil as long as it's well-drained.  Yews are famously shade-tolerant, true, but the congested foliage of 'Amersfoort' is most engaging when the bush is as bushy as it can be, which would be in full sun.

How to handle it: The Basics

'Amersfoort' needs little more than to be strategically planted in Spring, so that its growth will always be viewable at very close range, and then left to grow on its own. 

 

The uniquely short needles can't hold anything like the usual snow-load of yew cultivars with normal-length needles, so 'Amersfoort' is not usually one of the yews you'll need to (gently) thwack with a broom-straw broom (as opposed to a push broom) during or after a blizzard.  Finish thwacking of the rest of your yews first, so that heavy snow is released from them as soon as possible.  Only if you've still got some thwacks in you would you need a few to to give your 'Amersfoort'.  

This one of the rare yews that would be wasted on hedges or topiary.  Let it grow naturally, only approaching with clippers if an individual branch has become storm damaged or Winter-killed.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Yews are always at great risk for deer browsing.  'Amersfoort' is slow-growing already, so would be especially vulnerable.  Either net your bush (or deer-fence your garden) or spray faithfully with cold-weather-resistent deer repellent.  

 

Like all Taxus baccata, 'Amersfoort' is none too hardy.  At the cold end of Zone 6, excellent Winter drainage is essential, as is planting where there's shelter from sweeping winds.  See "Partner Plants" above.   

Variants

Yews have been in cultivation for many centuries, and there are countless cultivars and hybrids.  Hybrids of Taxus baccata and T. cuspidata are substantially hardier than those with only Taxus baccata parentage; they're known as Taxus x media

 

Even just focusing on Taxus baccata, there's still a lot of diversity. Cultivars can be narrowly vertical ('Fastigiata'), broader than tall ('Dovastoniana'), or, in 'Repandens', notably low, loose, and wide-spreading.  The verticals can be (at least in mild climates) up to thirty feet tall but only eight feet wide.  'Flushing' can be fifteen feet tall even in southern New England, but only two feet wide.  'Dovastoniana' can become gigantic; the largest known is 56' wide.  'Repandans' might never top two feet, but can spread to fifteen.  There are pendulous cultivars, but they're wide-spreading and with nodding branch-tips, not weeping in any overall sense that a beech or willow would respect. 

 

Needles are normally dark green, but there are a number of bright-needled cultivars.  'Standishii' is (at least for me) painfully slow-growing, and is as upright as the green-needled 'Fastigiata'.  'Summergold' has more of the habit of 'Repandens'.  'Silver Spire' is columnar, with needles edged in white.   

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings. 

Native habitat

Despite one of its common names, English yew, Taxus baccata is broadly native to western Europe, northwest Africa, Iran, and southwest Asia.  Amersfoort is a city in the Netherlands; this eponymous yew cultivar was discovered on the grounds of its mental hospital.

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required