It is with a heavy heart that I tell you I am, as we speak, chopping down and rooting up more than 40 feet of box hedge, with probably another 40 to do. In what seems like only a few days, our box hedges which we have been growing for the past 11 years, have been reduced to a skeleton of green clinging to the inside growth now gone to white mush and smelling faintly of rotting meat.
I think we have always had the beginning of box blight but have been saved in past years by dry summers which have enabled the box to fight it off. But this year, we chose to water with a sprinkler where we had re-planted in the parterre shapes, and this, I think, was our fatal error. In saving the new plants, we unwittingly provided the perfect conditions for blight, and it has romped through the hedges. I won’t go the chemical route, in any case you would need to hire in people to do it- and I have decided that we should abandon ship, and dig up in order to burn.
It is heartbreaking. But, having got over the initial shock, I am now inclined to move to the postion of ‘Better out than in’ and I have spent quite a bit of time narrowing down the choice of other hedging possibilities. The area is in a hot, dryish spot and faces West and South, so lots of late afternoon sun. In the end, I have chosen to go with Elaeagnus x ebbingei. I was tossing up between this and Viburnum tinus, when I noticed this article by Plants for a Future, and that clinched the choice for me on ecological grounds. It is pretty unlikely that we will be exploiting the full potential of the plant as PFAF describe, but I often check their site for comments on plant viability and they are pretty spot-on.
I like the silvery green of the leaves, much bigger than box, and the fact that it grows fairly quickly will be a bonus in the first couple of years, though we will then need to be on top of it to keep it about 1m high. It also seems to be pretty much disease-resistant. Good.
So, 100 plants are arriving next week. I will replant two of the four hedges right away with 50 of the plants, and then review the situation with the other two hedges. At the moment, one seems to be not too bad, and I am inclined to prune it, being very careful with the bits and burning them, opening up the hedge to allow as much air in as possible, and give it a chance. The second hedge is much younger and shorter, and so may well make it as well. The two big box balls we have been growing for more than 17 years and even brought from Scotland, may also make it with some help. But, I will have 50 plants temporarily planted in the old veg bed, so that, if we do need to move to termination, we are equipped to replant.
Here is some useful information about box blight from the RHS.
And yesterday, as I dug away, I noticed that Bouvardia ternifolia, a tender Mexican plant new to me that I have been growing in a pot, had flowered. And yes, it really is this red, and yes, it really cheered me up.