Hedge wars: man is guilty

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The Independent Online
IF SIZE were everything, a Victorian nurseryman named Leyland would be a giant among horticultural heroes. In 1888 he crossed two kinds of cypress tree, the Monterey and the yellow Nootka. The result was a tree of such amazing vigour you could almost watch it growing, writes Michael Leapman.

So thrilled were the botanical authorities that they named the new monster after its breeder: cupressocyparis leylandii. Yet today, it is the most contentious plant in the British garden.

For every Leyland cypress lover, there is a second person who depises it and who is all too often the next-door neighbour of the first. Last week a Birmingham leylandii lover of 86 took a neighbour to the Appeal Court accusing him of cutting back his precious trees, dividing the two gardens, to within an inch of their lives. The tree-lover lost and had to pay pounds 40,000 in legal fees. Undaunted, he plans to pursue the case until he avenges the pruning of 35ft from his truncated treasures.

The leylandii is like a St Bernard pup, so compact and appealing when young it is impossible to envisage how enormous it will become. Trouble most commonly arises when a sapling is planted a couple of yards from a front window. After 10 years it can soar to 80ft. Unless growth is checked, the front room may never see daylight again.

'It is like a time-bomb, ticking away,' declares Rosie Atkins, editor of the magazine Gardens Illustrated. Others are less restrained. Even Anna Pavord, the mild-mannered gardening correspondent of the Independent, revealed that she mutters 'Die you brutes, die,' when she comes across massed ranks of leylandii.

One of the oddest of this year's crop of leylandii tales was of an entire 40ft hedge stolen one night from a garden in Reading. The police are unsure whether the thief coveted it or simply wanted it removed.

Certainly there has been no ransom demand: in the leylandii wars, nobody takes prisoners.

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