Every garden we visit is very different which is why I love my work. One of our recent jobs was to help create a quiet garden. This might seem quite a simple matter; however, the garden in question was right next to a busy industrial unit. The huge extractor fans on the building next door sounded like jet planes taking off when in full use on our initial consultation. There was only one plant that came to mind. Only one that would be able to grow tall enough, dense enough and at such a vigorous rate that it would be able to give good protection from the deafening noise, within the time scale that the clients would likely be living in their new home. It is funny, as it is normally the last plant that would come to mind when designing a garden. I am sure you know what plant I am talking of; Cupressocyparis leylandii.
Leylandii gets a bad press, but is this justified? Most people know they are an extremely vigorous tree which means they subsequently suck more than their fair share of moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil. Their foliage is very dense, blocking much of the light from the garden space. However, they do have their benefits. They are fantastic at blocking out sound and also air particulate pollution, so they would be great if your house was close to a busy road for instance. A friend and award winning wildlife gardener, Dr Chris Gibson of Natural England, once pointed out to me how good they are for birds. Their dense evergreen foliage provides excellent shelter for birds through the harshest winter storms and they make excellent nesting sites for a lot of our native garden species (even if they do not provide much in the way of food for bids and other insects).
If you are thinking of planting a leylandii hedge, then do bare their growth habits in mind. Make sure you have enough space to grow them if you need them to grow tall. Do not expect to grow much at the base of the trees; even grass struggles to grow very well in the dry dark habitat created by the hedge. If you want a certain height of hedge then make sure you keep it trimmed. It will grow around 90cm in a good growing year! You could lighten things up a bit by opting for the ‘Golden’ variety, which is also a little less vigorous, relatively speaking, at up to 75cm of growth per annum.
If you have no need for a hedge then maybe you would be interested in growing one as a specimen tree. I have seen many leylandii in gardens where they have been pruned into all manner of shapes. The best I saw recently on a BBC television show based in Ireland, where the gardener had used them as a substitute for Italian Cypress, which can be tricky to keep the upright form in harsh winds and wet weather. The gardener in question had pruned leylandii to create the same narrow upright style of growth to amazing affect.
If you were like I was, and would never even consider planting this tree in your garden, maybe now you would think twice. We added 280 trees to this garden as well as laying a new lawn which the clients were very happy with. Leylandii isn’t as bad as people make out. It can actually be a stunning addition to a garden and one that would benefit your garden birds!