The common or cherry laurel is a garden superhero that relishes inhospitable conditions and will make a stunning, shiny green hedge all year round. Its leaves are properly glossy and can be up to 15 cm long in a greeny-yellow that makes it look almost tropical its foliage is so verdant and lush. Incredibly naturally bushy laurel blocks out almost everything - car lights, road noise and will even dissipate strong, prevailing winds. Laurel will grow in any soil apart from one that is waterlogged. In summer it becomes festooned with tall, white, flowers that are scented enough to pull in bees and butterflies during the summer. Autumn brings large, shiny black "cherries" that are hugely popular with birds. It grows quickly and forms a dense and effective hedge fast and with minimum intervention once planted.
Cherry laurel has many advantages; its vigour is second to none, its rounded, shiny leaves play with light to brighten a dark corner of the garden and it can be shaped into individual balls or lollipops that look fantastic. Plant a laurel hedge next to a low, stone wall and you can 'extend' your wall by several metres by trimming the laurel flush to the wall's face. It will provide a perfect screen to protect you from nearby buildings and will act as a windbreak to provide shelter in a garden so that you can grow more tender ornamental trees and plants. Lead and stone statuary or planters look especially good against its vibrant green and are indicative of how laurel can be used in a more formal setting where you use laurel to provide structure in the garden as opposed to the more commonly used but slower growing box or yew. More prosaically, another use for cherry laurel is as ground cover for game and wildlife. It is probably best not to grow it next to a field containing livestock because the plant is poisonous. If you are not sold on cherry laurel, a similar but less vigorous option would be the Portuguese laurel, Prunus lusitanica. For more restrained evergreen hedging with smaller, matt leaves but with the same propensity to thrive where no other plant dare go you could have a look at our Privet hedging.
The bay (Laurus nobilis), widely used as a culinary herb, is the only 'true' laurel grown widely in this country, although in other parts of the world there are more than 2,500 other species of tree and shrub laurel. Most of these are flowering plants with shiny evergreen leaves and include such familiar names as the avocado, cinnamon and camphor. What we refer to as laurel is in fact a plant that belongs to the cherry family, hence the name Prunus. That said, it has a long tradition of use in gardens here since it was first introduced from Turkey in the 1500s.