‘Be honest’ Matt Baker probes keeper of UK’s biggest yew maze – how to maintain hedges

Countryfile: Matt Baker visits Longleat yew maze

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A recent episode of Countryfile was shown on BBC Two this morning, and in it, Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison explored Cranborne Chase in south-east England. Matt met with Longleat Estate’s head gardener, Jules Curtis, to find out how he maintains the hedges of Britain’s longest maze.

Longleat Estate in Cranborne Chase in south-east England is home to Britain’s biggest modern-day maze.

The maze is also the UK’s longest, with its hedges lining 1.7 miles of paths.

The hedges are made of 16,000 English yew trees, which form the maze’s dense canopy.

Matt met with Jules who has tended the maze and the rest of Longleat’s gardens for 18 years.

Matt was surprised at the amount of hedge-cutting Jules and his team would have to do to maintain the maze’s good condition.

The presenter said: “I don’t mind a bit of hedge trimming but this is off the scale – 1.7 miles.

“How on earth do you cope with it as a team?”

Jules agreed that “it’s quite a big job”.

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The head gardener said: “We come in with four or five of us at a time in the autumn once it’s done all its growing.

“We come in and cut the hedge and we sort of work through the sections because we’d soon get lost otherwise.”

Jules went on to explain that it usually takes a “few weeks” a year to cut the hedges.

“It takes quite a few weeks because obviously it’s not all day long, but we’ll be, you know, [doing it for] seven to eight weeks in the mornings.”

The maze was opened in 1975 and can take from 10 to up to 90 minutes to get around and to the standing platform at its centre.

Jules explained that the maze’s hedges were planted as yew trees for a reason.

This is because it’s a “good long-lived hedge, fairly slow growing, and forms a nice dense canopy”.

Hedges are also great habitats for wildlife, such as birds and other small mammals.

Jules said: “Even with people coming in and out, there’s still quite a lot of wildlife.

“We’ve still got a lot of nesting birds.”

The head gardener mentioned that the bird species found in the hedges include robins and blackbirds, among others.

Planting hedges in your garden at home is a good idea to attract more wildlife, especially as bird species in the UK are currently dwindling due to the destruction of their habitats.

To finish his visit at Longleat, Matt asked Jules: “Be honest with me, do you still get lost?”

“Uh, yes. There’s still some bits of it [the maze] where you think, uh, is it that one or that one?” the head gardener admitted.

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