Miles Kington: A chance meeting that led to a thousand rows

I don't suppose the Rev Adam Buddle would have objected to having buddleia named after him
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No? You are wrong. You have heard of him. For he is the Leyland after whom the Leyland cypress is named, the dreaded leylandii, or to give it its full name, the x Cupressocyparis leylandii.

Normally, if you give your name to something, you feel well pleased. I do not suppose the Rev Adam Buddle would have objected to having buddleia named after him, had he known Linnaeus was going to do it, or that Ruy Lopez or Blackwood fought hard against chess openings or bridge conventions being christened for them. And when CJ Leyland was visiting his brother-in-law in Montgomeryshire in 1888, and noticed some odd conifer seedlings in the grounds, and asked if he could take them home to Northumberland, he must have known while still alive that they had decided to name the tree after him, even if he had no idea how cursed his name would become.

(Mr Leyland did not actually invent or breed the tree. He merely spotted it growing. He was quite lucky to do so. It is very rare, apparently, for different genera of conifers to interbreed. At Leighton Hall there were two different kinds of cypress which, back home in America, grew two thousand miles apart and would never have met. At Leighton Hall they met and had a hybrid offspring, which Mr Leyland happened to notice. I think that proves the case against holiday romances for once and for all, especially between trees.)

So Mr Leyland took his seedlings home to Haggerston Castle and grew them and the new sturdy, fast-growing trees were eventually named "x Cupressocyparis leylandii" (the "x" denoting a hybrid) and now people all over British are planting them as a fast-growing thick screen and the people next door are going mad because it takes all their light, water and views and has all the personality of a green brick wall.

I know about this because there is a screen of tall leylandii down one side of my very own garden and I long for them to be removed or at least brought down to the proper height. What is very odd about my case is that the trees are on my land and were planted by a previous owner.

So why cannot I just chop them down?

Because they were originally planted as a low screen to conceal the railway which runs past the garden, and are now a very high screen, and there is no way we can take them down without disrupting the railway, which is only a few feet away. Every tree expert who comes to look at my leylandii shakes his head, and makes funny low noises in his throat as if he were trying to remember a cello part in a bit of Brahms but which, interpreted, mean: "We're looking at an expensive not to say impossible job here, mate, on the grounds that we'd have to hire loads of blokes in orange jackets which doesn't come cheap, nor do I see how we can remove the branches without wrecking your garden ..."

My neighbours would also like my leylandii removed, as it obstructs their view too, so we now have a strange neighbourhood dispute in which all the neighbours are on the same side, against the same leylandii, and yet the only circumstances in which they can be cut down to size are if:

a) There is a national rail strike

b) This particular branch line from Bath to the south coast is closed down

c) There is a fortuitous local forest fire which takes out my leylandii but by a miracle spares everything else , or

d) One of us inherits a small fortune.

Or, of course, if some modern CJ Leyland discovers a natural predator which would attack the tree in a highly selective sort of way. Yes, a crippling ailment which affects only leylandii. Dutch Leylandii Disease ...

"That's it, I'm afraid," the tree doctor would say. "They've got DLD. Nothing can save them now. They'll have to come down, I'm afraid ..."

And the Kington family would join hands and dance round in glee as the amazed tree doctor looked on ...

I'm sorry. You get a bit light-headed when you've got a touch of what soon, surely, must be called Leyland's Syndrome.