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Carefree conifers, should we love or hate this evergreen hedging and screening tree?
Did you know that there are almost as many leylandii conifers in the UK as there are people? The numbers are estimated to be in the region of 55 million. That’s a lot of fuel to fire up hatred, but why do we love to despise this plant, which is correctly called x Cuprocyparis leylandii? It’s all about perception, but also size. People do tend to plant this tree inappropriately, then they neglect to keep them under control.
The first photo shows a conifer that could easily be taken for Leylandii. But , as can be seen in the second photo, the Leylandii foliage branchlets lay flat in the hand and are quite different.
Contrary to popular belief, leylandii are more-or-less British, being a cross that took place in Wales back in the late 19th century. The parent species are both from the USA, being Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Xanthocyparis nootkatensis, the Nootka cypress. One parent gives leylandii its hardiness, whilst the other has donated its extraordinary fast growth speed. It stands to reason that the tree is unable to reproduce without human help. All the trees you see today have been deliberately planted as they all come from cuttings.
The fact of the matter is that nobody really knows exactly how tall this tree might grow. Because they are relatively new, there are none that are ancient. It is possible that the leylandii could grow to over 61metres or 200ft tall. This is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact from a forestry angle, it’s highly beneficial. If, however, you are a householder who lives next door to a leylandii hedge, it might feel like a blight on your horizon. Legal disputes involving this tree run into thousands in terms of feuding neighbours. As you can see below, Leylandii grow very tall when they are left to their own devices. If your neighbours are close, it might cause a problem.
Beauty at Bedgebury
But for those curating the National Pinetum in Bedgebury, Kent, the Cypress leylandii is a positive feature. Bedgebury is home to what is believed to be the world’s tallest and oldest leylandii hedge in Britain, measuring over 39 metres (130ft). The pinetum is proud of its leylandii, having found the trees to be robust and strong, making a great statement.
Neighbours from hell?
It’s another matter within domestic gardens, where such trees can be guilty of blocking light and restricting views. Which can be a blessing if you happen to live next door to a naturist, as happened in Keighley, West Yorkshire! Privacy represents the main reason for people to plant such a species. But few realise just how fast and furiously the trees grow. They sprout upwards and outwards at a rate of at least one metre per year. It’s one thing to snip the top off a young leylandii plant, but quite another to attempt to trim an entire hedge, which can often be wider than it is tall. And, of course, the trees suck up moisture which can make difficult soil for planting nearby.
Back in 2003 and 2005, legislation was passed under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act and this can incur fines of up to £1000 for those who are deemed to be in breach of the rules. Before this happens, neighbours are expected to ‘exhaust all avenues of negotiation’ before involving the local council. This is expensive, in itself, with fees chargeable for those wishing to lodge a complaint. It’s no laughing matter, with some neighbour disputes even resulting in death.
A ‘high hedge’ is now considered to be anything taller than two metres. It would apply to evergreen and semi-evergreen hedges, excluding bamboo and ivy.You can see how a dense hedge sucks out the light - it's no wonder that out-of-control hedges can cause so many neighbour disputes. You can see below how a dense hedge can suck away the light.
Taking legal steps
So, what do you do and where do you go for hedge help?
- If you feel that a tall hedge is affecting your enjoyment, the advice is to firstly try communicating with the owner of the hedge. Keep copies of correspondence as evidence.
- Then, contact the local council if you want to lodge a formal complaint. This will incur a fee, which can be as high as £500.
- The council will consider the arguments on each side and will make a decision.
- This will result in a rejection of the complaint, or they will issue a notice for the work to be carried out. It will include a timescale within which work needs to be undertaken.
- Warning: hedges continue to grow! You might need to go through a similar process in the not-too-distant future!