This lovely drawing by Eva-Maria Ruhl is a family portrait of the Leyland cypress (in the middle), that ubiquitous suburban conifer. I was delighted to write a guest rant for Gardenrant.com, and let off some steam about Leylands, or rather the way they’re misused in landscaping.
The Leyland is the offspring of two venerable North American conifers native to the West Coast, the Monterey cypress (on the left) and the Nootka cypress (on the right). The pair never would have met in their native habitats: The southernmost Nootka grows 400 miles north of the Monterey. But in the late 1800s, Christopher Leyland, a wealthy English banker, gave his nephew John an estate in southern Wales as a wedding present. John’s landscape architect installed a variety of exotic trees, including a Nootka and a Monterey. In 1888, the seed of one species and pollen of the other had a sexual encounter, and a hybrid seed sprouted.
When John’s son Christopher inherited the estate the next year, he cultivated the hybrids. Christopher Leyland’s seedlings prospered and became known as the Leyland cypress (Cupressus x leylandii). Leylands are sterile, but they are readily grown from cuttings. The problem is that suburbanites, in hopes of quickly creating a privacy screen, usually plant the saplings far too close together. As they grow taller (and they can add three feet per year), they shade one another, and become distorted and spindly and downright dangerous.