Down with Leylands!

Betty Sneeringer3 comments1172 views
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Below, author Ruth Kassinger summarizes a chapter from her new book, A Garden of Marvels, published this week. Tomorrow we’ll have a book review and giveaway.

Lately, with heavy snow here in suburban Maryland, I’ve had to keep an eye on my neighbor’s Leyland cypresses that stand in a ragged row along our property line. Our house is a bare seven feet south of the trees, and after a wet snow, I often find one of their trees leaning over our roof or a large limb fallen into our driveway.

Leylands have a narrow, conical shape. They should be planted about fifteen feet apart because at maturity the lower branches extend in a circle about fifteen feet in diameter. Our neighbors, however, planted their saplings about three feet apart and inches from the property line. Because the trees are crammed together and because our house blocks sunlight from falling on the lower branches, they look like thirty-foot-tall fence posts with green tufts at the top.

People plant Leyland cypresses because they quickly provide a privacy screen, but like most fast-growing trees, their wood is soft. Wet snows, like the ones we’ve been having, are hell on these Leylands. The snow piles up in the trees’ caps of dense needles, and they bend, permanently deformed, under the weight. Sometimes they snap entirely, leaving a naked trunk behind. Each spring, our neighbor’s yardman takes out a few stumps and wires the tilted fellows to their sturdier companions to reestablish the line. The trees look terrible laced together, but, after twenty years, mutilated and sparse, they survive.

I’ve done some research on Leylands. (Frankly, I started off hoping I’d find some undetectable way of doing them in. Not only are they a danger, but in the winter I find them especially looming and depressing.) It turns out I’m not the only one who hates these conifers. In England, according to the BBC Newsmagazine, they’re known as “the scourge of suburbia” and “a by-word for neighbourly bust-ups.” In Wales, in 2001, one neighbor fatally shot another in a dispute over Leyland cypresses.  In 2005, the British government estimated that there were as many as 7,000 unresolved disputes between neighbors about Leyland hedges.

Our neighbor’s line of trees is pretty sparse, with many holes where individuals have succumbed. Fortunately, the lifespan of a Leyland is about twenty-five years. And, if old age doesn’t get the rest shortly,  winter storms will. So, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Posted by

Ruth Kassinger

on February 27, 2014 at 8:22 am, in the category Guest Rants, It’s the Plants, Darling.


  1. Hmmm. I think I am living next to clones of your neighbor. They’ve also planted their Leylands about three feet apart and about 5 inches from the property line. Idiots. The yard guy has to prop them up to keep them from tipping over when it snows.

  2. This reminds me of those one star recipe reviews where the reviewer substitutes out 3 of the 6 ingredients, changes the cooking process, and then complains that the resulting dish tastes terrible. It’s not so much, ‘down with leylands,’ as, ‘down with doing stupid things with leylands.’

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