Grace your garden with box

Grace your garden with box
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Members of my family often accuse me of having delusions of grandeur, something I hotly deny! But there is one area where I confess it may be true: my veg patch. When I created it shortly after moving in, I decided that each of its beds would have neatly-clipped box hedges around them – very Versailles (albeit in the back garden of a two-bedroom semi).

There’s something about a smart box hedge though –it instantly adds a classy quality to any garden, which is not surprising as they are not cheap plants to start with! One way to minimise the cost is to start, as I did, with young bare-root plants and wait for them to grow and knit together. Or, if you know someone with box bushes, offer to take their prunings off their hands and use them as cuttings.

Five years after being planted, my box hedges are finally starting to give my veg patch that Versailles look, so you can imagine how worrying the threat of box blight is.

In the last few years this fungal disease has become more virulent, spreading like wildfire through lots of gardens, including Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don’s patch.

It can demolish box hedges, leading to ugly bare patches, die back and total death, but seems to be more of a problem on older box plants, which have been clipped hard over many years. So far, touch wood, my relatively young plants are free of disease, but any can be affected.

Had I known, I might have been tempted to grow a box look-alike instead, such as small-leaved Euonymus microphylla and Ilex crenata. There is now a fungicide available to gardeners for box blight control (Bayer Fungus Fighter Plus), but it’s unlikely to cure an infection once it’s started. The best way to prevent it is to keep plants healthy, well-fed and never stressed, such as by letting them dry out in drought conditions. Prune them at the right time and not too hard, and follow up with a scattering of fertiliser.

My hedges are still growing to size so only need a light trim to encourage them to bush out. June is the time to do it – it was traditionally always done on Derby Day, when the owners of grand, stately houses were at the races, and the garden staff could get on with the job! With no staff, I’ll be doing it myself, but Derby Day is still a handy reminder that it’s time to get the shears out.

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