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September 11, 2012 > Pat Kite's Garden: Privet personally

Pat Kite's Garden: Privet personally

By Pat Kite

I have a love-hate relationship with my privet trees. At 40 years old, they are about 40- feet high and truly in need of a cutback. They shed messy leaves, they breed numerous little privets throughout the garden, and they give squirrels a safe site above my teased yammering dogs. On the other side of the coin, privets block vision of the two-story house next to me. This is, of course, a lovely house. But I like to pretend that I live in this serene woodland, surrounded by wildlife [well sparrows] and, for a little while at least, am far away from the concrete world one must deal with on a daily basis.

Privets, which have the fancy name Ligustrum, have many practical uses. Most grow quickly and are useful for creating thick hedges. They tend to be soil, sun/shade and neglect adaptable. You can shear some of them into fancy shapes. Depending on what you want to do, try to select the best variety. This takes a bit of caution, as sold varieties are often mislabeled.

If you want a tall tree, decide how tall. Japanese privet, an evergreen, will go to 15 feet high and eight feet wide in about five years time. It is often used for decorative shaping. Glossy privet [L. lucidum], also evergreen, will be 40-feet in 20 years. California privet is semi-evergreen, and will go to 15 feet fairly quickly. Common privet [L. vulgare] is deciduous, also growing to 15 feet and as wide as 12-feet. If you want true screening, you want an evergreen. If you want the sun to penetrate your yard in the winter, then get one with leaves that fall off [and gives you exercise raking up]. There are also shorter privets, mostly used in large containers, such as "Suwannee River" which eventually gets to about four feet high.

Privets have quite a history, being one of the first European shrubs brought across the Atlantic to a new home in America. A homesick immigrant wrote, "Privet groweth of his owne kinde in manie places of Englande, and is also planted in manie Gardens."

Today's story: Privets are related to olive trees. An olive tree had several handsome sons. The youngest son said he didn't want to bear olives. He wanted to grow in the hedgerows and gardens, to be near people, and have flowers for the bees to visit. The parent tree said, o.k. but if I give you all this, your fruit will be small and bitter. The youngest son replied, "I don't mind as long as I am useful." So, privets have little round dark bitter seeds, but they are quite useful, and the birds like them too.

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