What to do about Box Blight?

By Sarah Plested

Having maintained, as well as designed, gardens for the last five years, I know all about Box Blight. I’ve learnt how to identify it and what chemical sprays have an impact on containing the spread, I’ve learnt not to prune on Derby Day but wait until the new wood has hardened in September and the absolute importance of good hygiene practice.

But do I risk including it in new designs?

I recently purchased 295 Buxus sempervirens plants for a front garden design where topiary featured heavily. Prior to purchase I investigated all the alternative plants I could use, such as Ilex crenata, Lonicera nitida and Euonymus japonicus ‘Jean Hughes’; speaking to several specialist nurseries and seeking advice. I ruled out E. japonicus ‘Jean Hughes’ as I wasn’t convinced it would do the job required, L. nitida would need several prunes to keep it in shape, so I. crenata was the most favorable choice. However, in terms of cost, I. crenatawas three times more expensive than the box, taking it way over budget for such a large quantity.

Having discussed the risks and options with my client, I recommended sticking with the Boxwood as it would achieve the required look and was within their budget. I sourced from a reliable supplier, have given the clients advice on care and maintenance and also pointed out that any infected plants if spotted early enough could be replaced relatively cheaply.

But is it worth including Boxwood in future designs with the risks attached? I am attending an RHS course later this year at RHS Wisley entitled ‘Alternatives to Boxwood’, and I’m hoping there maybe some answers to this question.

In the meantime, I am finding myself avoiding box topiary if at all possible, even though sometimes it seems to be the only plant that does the job both in terms of aesthetics, site and price – probably the reason it has been used in garden design for hundreds of years!