Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling

Down with Leylands!

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Below, author Ruth Kassinger summarizes a chapter from her new book, A Garden of Marvels, published this week. Tomorrow we’ll have a book review and giveaway.

Lately, with heavy snow here in suburban Maryland, I’ve had to keep an eye on my neighbor’s Leyland cypresses that stand in a ragged row along our property line. Our IMG_5876house is a bare seven feet south of the trees, and after a wet snow, I often find one of their trees leaning over our roof or a large limb fallen into our driveway.

Leylands have a narrow, conical shape. They should be planted about fifteen feet apart because at maturity the lower branches extend in a circle about fifteen feet in diameter. Our neighbors, however, planted their saplings about three feet apart and inches from the property line. Because the trees are crammed together and because our house blocks sunlight from falling on the lower branches, they look like thirty-foot-tall fence posts with green tufts at the top.

People plant Leyland cypresses because they quickly provide a privacy screen, but like most fast-growing trees, their wood is soft. Wet snows, like the ones we’ve been having, are hell on these Leylands. The snow piles up in the trees’ caps of dense needles, and they bend, permanently deformed, under the weight. Sometimes they snap entirely, leaving a naked trunk behind. Each spring, our neighbor’s yardman takes out a few stumps and wires the tilted fellows to their sturdier companions to reestablish the line. The trees look terrible laced together, but, after twenty years, mutilated and sparse, they survive.

I’ve done some research on Leylands. (Frankly, I started off hoping I’d find some undetectable way of doing them in. Not only are they a danger, but in the winter I find them especially looming and depressing.) It turns out I’m not the only one who hates these conifers. In England, according to the BBC Newsmagazine, they’re known as “the scourge of suburbia” and “a by-word for neighbourly bust-ups.” In Wales, in 2001, one neighbor fatally shot another in a dispute over Leyland cypresses.  In 2005, the British government estimated that there were as many as 7,000 unresolved disputes between neighbors about Leyland hedges.

Our neighbor’s line of trees is pretty sparse, with many holes where individuals have succumbed. Fortunately, the lifespan of a Leyland is about twenty-five years. And, if old age doesn’t get the rest shortly,  winter storms will. So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Posted by Ruth Kassinger on February 27, 2014 at 8:22 am, in the category Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling.
12 Comments

12 Responses to “Down with Leylands!”

  1. kathleen says:

    Hmmm. I think I am living next to clones of your neighbor. They’ve also planted their Leylands about three feet apart and about 5 inches from the property line. Idiots. The yard guy has to prop them up to keep them from tipping over when it snows.

    Yes, let it snow. A lot!

    That said, I do like the greenery. Though it is a little unimaginative as screens go.

  2. skr says:

    This reminds me of those one star recipe reviews where the reviewer substitutes out 3 of the 6 ingredients, changes the cooking process, and then complains that the resulting dish tastes terrible. It’s not so much, ‘down with leylands,’ as, ‘down with doing stupid things with leylands.’

  3. We just bought a home last year with lots of these guys as well as arborvitae lining the property for privacy. While I do like that they make our yard feel more private and cozy, all of them look like total shit now after the ice storms this winter. Many of the arborvitae bit the dust, snapping off near the base in some cases, and will need to be taken out in the spring. Do you have any recommendations for other trees/shrubs that provide privacy but aren’t so vulnerable to heavy snow and ice? Great post!

    • Thanks! I’m fundamentally an indoor gardener, so I’m hoping other readers will offer their suggestions. So much depends on how high you want your hedge. My neighbors must want to be utterly secluded, even when they look out their second floor windows.

  4. Ari says:

    We have a 50 metre row of these along the driveway. They were around two metres when we moved in, about 5 now and just starting to encroach on the driveway – planted a metre from the edge of it.

    I’ve been eyeing off the long straight trunks and making plans for a pergola with them in mind. Another year or so for their replacements to get going and out comes the chainsaw – I had planned to use one for a Christmas tree but horses like them, a lot. Less pruning for me!

  5. The only thing you can do with a line of leylands like that is top them at a desired height and prune them into a tight tight hedge. The kind of hedges you’d see in England. The tight pruning, over time, makes it hard for snow and ice to penetrate and they hold up much better.

  6. The point is the Leyland’s Cypress is a HEDGING plant. if someone plants almost any hedge and then ignores it for several years, it will be a problem. The hedge is not the problem, dozy house owners are the problem. Leyland’s is just a particularly LARGE outcome of that doziness.

    • J W says:

      There’s no law stating that you have to like what others do with their property.

      Also, if they were meant to only be a hedging plant, they wouldn’t grow to the size that they do

  7. Callum says:

    This website really has all the information and facts I wanted concerning this
    subject and didn’t know who to ask.

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