Let’s Hear It For The Majestic Leylandii

Time was when any poll would show that the most despised people in the UK were politicians, bankers, journalists and estate agents.


While the last few years have undoubtedly helped cement the first three’s position well and truly in the mire, estate agents are no longer there. This is nothing to do with a Damascene conversion taking them away from the dark side and everything to do with no one buying or selling houses any more. Their place has been taken not by crude celebrity chefs (or even celebrities in general), nor by stars of reality TV (who don’t actually count as celebrities) or even Premiership footballers (more of whom later) but by a tree – the Leylandii (Cupressocyparis Leylandii) to be specific.

The vitriol thrown at and the vilification suffered by this innocent and irreplaceable plant puts me in a somewhat precarious position because we cultivate, raise and sell thousands every year.

So please give me a few moments of your time to put the case for the defence…

Let’s say that our six acre nursery was given over not to hedging trees and shrubs but to mentha sachalinensis or garden mint and that thousands of people, ignoring every recipe book ever written, decided to chuck handfuls of the stuff over spaghetti Bolognese, lobster thermidor and/or their midweek plate of bacon and eggs.

Would the world blame the resulting culinary car crash on this delightful herb without which a mojito is nothing but a watery glass of over-sweet rum or a leg of lamb just another lump of Sunday roast?

Of course not.

So please don’t blame the Leylandii for the stupidity, selfishness and incompetence of those who either plant it in the wrong place, deny it the little maintenance it needs or, more than likely, both.

As happens so often, when common sense goes out the window, the law eventually barges its way through the door. We shouldn’t be at all surprised, therefore, that in 2005, the United Kingdom Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 was expanded in a last ditch attempt to ameliorate the effects of the horticulturally inept. A certain Part VIII was added a) to give people the right to ask local authorities to investigate complaints about high hedges (they meant Leylandii) and b) the authorities the power to then wield their chain saws if they saw fit.

Did it really have to come to this?

In a word, no.

Yes, Leylandii will reach an impressive 35 metres (growing at around a metre a year) which is why, when left to its own devices, it makes a glorious boundary between fields, open spaces or, if orientated W-E, even large gardens and why it should never be planted, say, in the small gap between two houses where its tolerance of heavy shade won’t slow down its progress towards the upstairs windows.

Within the garden itself, the Leylandii makes an excellent hedge or colonnade that should cause no problems with neighbours when kept to a couple of metres or under – and at this height its annual haircut is hardly a chore.

In fact, the annual upkeep of a 15m run of leylandii averages out at less than 10 minutes a month.

So, it really is extraordinarily simple: pick Wayne Rooney as England’s No. 10 and you will be applauded; cast Wayne Rooney as Hamlet and the reviews won’t be quite so favourable.

It was, apparently, the American minister, Charles A. Goodrich, who popularised the motto “a place for everything and everything in its place”.

I would like to think that he had the Leylandii in mind.