The Leyland cypress

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Everybody knows a leylandii hedge: every street in every town all over the land has one.

Leyland cypress topiarised into the shape of a cactusIn the 19th century the gardens at Leighton Hall, Powys were planted with newly discovered tree varieties, gleaned by fearless plant hunters from every corner of the Empire. Included in the arboretum were the Monterey cypress, from California and the Nootka cypress, from Alaska. Obviously, these two trees would never have met in the wild but, in Wales, they hybridised. The result was x Cupressocyparis leylandii aka the Leyland cypress aka leylandii aka "your ****ing hedge, mate".

Everybody knows a leylandii hedge: every street in every town all over the land has one. Why? Because they're ridiculously fast growing (up to one metre a year) and, being British, we don't enjoy being overlooked by our neighbours even when the most daring thing we do is sunbathe in a vest. (The Americans are much friendlier and rather disapprove of heavy boundaries between properties). The intention, in growing a leylandii hedge, might be innocent but one small fact tends to be overlooked: the trees don't know when to stop growing and, if neglected, can reach about 35 metres high (and five metres wide). This doesn't make for good neighbourly relations.

In some circumstances leylandii can make a pretty impressive specimen tree but as a hedge in a small garden they are extraordinarily unsuitable.


A well clipped leylandii hedge can be a thing of great beauty, but you have to be keen and diligent. If the hedge is trimmed at least two or three times a year then it can work well. The problem with this arrangement is that, firstly, you mustn't forget to clip it and, secondly, your neighbours need to do the same on their side. One of the best-looking hedges I've ever seen was of lovingly maintained leylandii. It was tight, dense and of a much more vibrant green than either yew or privet, the other 'classic' choices for evergreen hedging. But then the owner moved on and within 18 months it was a mess; two years later the new owner had given up and dug the whole thing out.

On balance, however, it's probably best to look elsewhere for your hedging material. The RHS has a good list of hedging plants.

If you still insist on growing leylandii then this is always an option, but please, please, please don't grow a variety called 'Harlequin', whose foliage looks like the aftermath of a lively stag night.

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Talkback: The Leyland cypress
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Gardeners' World Web User 25/01/2009 at 21:07

I absolutely agree with this, but has anyone any ideas on the best way to get rid of a 6 metre high wall of 25 trees running round my garden?

Gardeners' World Web User 30/01/2009 at 21:25

Is it possible to find a use for shredded leylandi clippings? I am fairly new to owning an allotment and wondered if they could be used for paths, filling in holes - I have a few of those - or even be composted. Perhaps they can be used to make ericaceous compost?

Gardeners' World Web User 02/02/2009 at 11:33

I'm afraid, Mr Murraymint, the only way is with chainsaw, stumpgrinder and (sadly) chequebook! Shredded leylandii will eventually compost down. I have used them for paths before and they are fine but not at robust as woodchips.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/02/2009 at 20:28

My elderly mum has a Leyland cypress hedge that has become too tall and too wide. She is getting complaints from a neighbour and so from the council, which worries her greatly. I have noticed that some similar species sprout new growth vigorously from their bases when cut back to a bare stump. Could this be a cheap way to restart a more reasonably sized hedge, which will grow outwards rapidly to fill holes, and which has a 5ft height marker (the stump) to help keep the height down? Or will the whole thing just die?

Gardeners' World Web User 06/02/2009 at 18:05

leylandi should be sold with a health warning. We move to this house nearly 2 years ago the house is 23years old and I think everyone on the estate must have gone out and emptied the garden centres of the things 23 years ago.the size of some are unbelievable one inparticular is easy 5metres wide and as high as the house lucky for us its not in our garden,we did have one next to a horsechestnut we chopped it down last year and dug out the root.both side of us back and front are leylandi but lucky again the roots are in the neighbouring gardens and we have very good neighbours we do one side between us and the other side we go into their garden and trim them they are at a manageable hight and we bought one of those hedge trimmers that can cut at different angles and have ajustable handle for different hights a pain spending time cutting other peoples hedges but they look nice when kept trim.I did read they dont live long lives like our native trees is this true?if it is theres going to be either a big compost heap or a very big bonfire one day,can only hope.I would much rather see a nice native hedge and I'm sure the wild life would like it better.

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