Thursday, 26 June 2008

a walk on the wild side

I grew up on Nottingham's council estates - its social housing programme. There, each garden was hedged with privet (ligustrum japonica). The sweet scent of its flowers in June and the acrid smell of the burning hedge clippings later in the season bring back powerful memories of my childhood.

Quite rightly, other plants are now favoured for hedging. Privet is considered old fashioned - it is worth mentioning how popular it is with our house sparrows (passer domesticus) as a dense place in which to hide and chirrup. But it is its native British cousin that deserves a place in every garden.

Wild privet (ligustrum vulgare) is now a plant we associate with ancient hedgerows. Medieval field boundaries are often marked by mixed hedges that include wild privet.

The pictured plant was grown from a cutting taken during a summer walk in North Nottinghamshire over ten years ago.

Ours is now an established upright shrub with an open habit. It can grow into a small tree, but use of secateurs retains its loose form and keeps its height down to a manageable eight feet. It makes an excellent screen. Wild privet has the advantage of being evergreen and has much more elongated leaves than the rounded cultivar variety. It is adorned in late June by these white flowers that are reminiscent of lilacs. Its perfume is sweet.

Wild privet is the larval food plant of our largest hawk moth, the privet hawk moth (sphinx ligustri). Although considered a moth of southern Britain, the warming of our climate will surely see an extension of its range. And our lovely wild privet awaits the most spectacular caterpillars!

In the late summer and autumn, the plant has clusters of small black berries that are loved by birds.

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