Minor British Institutions: Leylandii

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Well, not so minor, obviously, which has been the problem. They grow to over 100ft, block out light, cause neighbourly wars (including fatalities) and have been blamed for the decline of the sparrows. The Leyland Cypress has little to do with Leyland, Lancs. It is in fact a Welsh accident.

The first leylandii was documented in 1888, when it had already been growing long enough to be distinguishable from surrounding cypresses. It was the product of cross-pollination between Nooka and Monterey cypresses in the arboretum of banker John Naylor, owner of Leighton Hall in mid- Wales. The species is named after the eldest son of Naylor, Christopher John Leyland – who changed his surname in 1891 after inheriting a fortune from his uncle, Thomas Leyland.

The original tree blew down in 1954, and its lanky descendants are everywhere. Changes in the law have given neighbours more rights and cut the leylandii down to size, but it is still a formidable aid to privacy. It grows anywhere, but prefers a mild climate and shelter. The tallest, at an arboretum in southern England, is said to be about 130ft high.