The nature of things
FEW plants cause as much wrath as x Cupressocyparis leylandii, the Leyland cypress. Like fire, it’s a good servant, but a bad master. For decades, leylandii has been the go-to hedger sought by those who require a fast route to evergreen screening, but an eagerness to plant a row isn’t always matched by any readiness to trim the beast regularly. Bad feeling among neighbours emerges—even lawsuits. Meanwhile, the monster carries on its upwards and outwards trajectory, gaining some 3ft in height each year and creating dry infertile ground beneath it.
The first of its type occurred, accidentally, in an arboretum in mid Wales in 1888, when two American species, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis and Cupressus macrocarpa (which would not have met in the wild), cross-pollinated, creating an unusual intergeneric hybrid. Nurseries rapidly adopted the vigorous conifer, easily grown from cuttings.
Leyland cypress is often vilified for being useless to wildlife, but that’s mere prejudice. My neighbour’s trees are massively overgrown (fortunately, they’re on the north side, shading their garden, not mine). All manner of birds roost and nest among the gloomy branches: blackbirds, robins, wood pigeons and dunnock. Also goldcrests, whose tiny tinkly-bell music rings out year-round in the treetops. Ladybirds and other insects hide in the crannies. Leylandii has many drawbacks, but wildlife hindrance isn’t one of them. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe