A Gardening Journal

Box-leaf Privet

Over weeks each fall, truckloads of container specimens decamp from the garden to the greenhouse. Add the gradual die-off of the warm-weather annuals, plus the digging up of the tropical tubers, and you have a massive seasonal exodus. 

 

The hardy plants are left in high relief. This, then, is the season to rediscover them. What have they been doing, and how well are they doing it?

 

Take box-leaf privet. 

 

Ligustrum sinense Wimbei fingers 110717 640

 

Its short leathery leaves are pointed, and are closely spaced up their stems. 

 

Ligustrum sinense Wimbei fingers 110717 cropped 640 

 

At close range, above, the effect is similar to a delightfully eccentric form of ivy, Hedera helix 'Conglomerata Erecta'. Its small, pointed, leathery leaves also crowd its vertical stems.

 

Many plants whose leaves are spaced unusually close together on their stems are, like the ivy, dwarf overall: the foliar congestion is the result of the plant's stems making only minimal growth before the next leaves are formed. It's as if such plants not only can't wait long before forming new leaves, they also can't make further growth until they've finished that next rung of foliage. Growing such short distances, then singlemindedly stopping to form another leaf after each tiny spurt, means that progress is slow and dense. No wonder this growth habit is described as being congested—and no wonder so many plants with a congested habit are also much smaller and denser than their free-range peers.

 

Conversely, some plants that are unusually large have leaves that are very far apart on their stems, as if the stems simply must make all kinds of further growth before settling down—just momentarily—to produce their next leaves. Think Sorbaria kirilowii or Paulownia tomentosa: there could be a foot or two of stem between one leaf and the next. With the ivy as well as box-leaf privet, that distance is just millimeters.

 

The charm of Ligustrum sinense 'Wimbei' is that, while its foliage is remarkably congested, its overall growth is not. In the shot below, the stems become long, and are willowy-slender.

 

 Ligustrum sinense Wimbei overall 110817 640

 

If allowed to grow free-range, Wimbei is reported to become nearly as high as the straight species of Asian privet: eight feet. But it is also reported as keeping an upright profile by growing only two to three feet wide. The near-vertical stems of my youngsters certainly suggest that future.

 

I've sited each of my pair of Wimbei privets to take advantage of these distinctive habits: each is planted inside one of two front corners of a square of low yew hedging, where their assignment is to form dense upright panels of growth.  

 

Stay tuned for the progress.

 

 

Here's how to grow another Chinese species of privet, Ligustrum quihoui. Its hardiness & responsiveness to pruning are similar to those of Ligustrum sinense 'Wimbei', although its natural habit is to grow as wide as it is high.

 

Here's an exciting variegated privet, Ligustrum x ibolium 'Quackin' Happy Moondrops'. It's hardy to zone 4b, whereas Ligustrum sinense, both the straight species and its cultivars such as Wimbei, are typically not hardy colder than zone 6.

 
 
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