There are some plants that have a bad name in gardening. The mention of these outlaws can strike fear into the hearts of the green-fingered. Light-blocking leylandii, outlaw ivy and bandit brambles might be seen as no-good garden criminals, but despite the bad press, if they’re managed right these three stooges can actually be made into useful, attractive members of the garden community. Here’s how!
It’s a familiar site in woodland, or climbing over a tumbledown wall in the English countryside. (In fact, it’s probably the reason the wall tumbled down in the first place!) English ivy has a habit of running amok, strangling trees or destroying fences and sheds.
But managed well, ivy provides a marvellous garden display, its deep green leaves giving a striking backdrop to other plants. It’s also fantastic for wildlife as birds love nesting in it and insects abound. Cutting back regularly is the secret. Just don’t let ivy get out of hand on fences or sheds and keep an eye on any structures that are threatened by being overrun. When pruning, leave the plant with an attractive ball shape for wildlife. If you need to start with a drastic prune, be careful – you might find the ivy is holding up a fence that may collapse without it!
Local news stories of feuding neighbours and light-blocking giant hedges are what we think about when we hear the name of this type of cypress tree. And it’s true that if leylandii is allowed to get to a certain height it can take over a garden, even sucking minerals from the soil so that nothing else will grow around it.
But leylandii is also an extremely useful tree, and can be used for effective, quick hedging, as a robust windbreak for an exposed garden or for greater privacy. The key is regular pruning again. Leylandii is the fastest growing conifer in the UK, hence its bad reputation when it’s left to its own devices. But cut it back two or three times a year and it will stay under control.
Images of Sleeping Beauty’s overgrown castle come to mind when we think about brambles, perhaps the quintessential English undergrowth. Tangled stems and the those horrible sharp spines mean clearing a bramble patch is one of the worst garden jobs.
But don’t write off brambles – instead, consider actually welcoming them into your garden and managing them. You’ll get pretty flowers and delicious fruits for picking in late summer. To keep growth under control, plant in a raised bed and cut back in winter after the fruit has gone over. A good tip is to have a raised bramble bed surrounded by lawn – brambles spread by sending shoots out underground, so mowing surrounding grass regularly will keep shoots down.