You may or may not have heard that there’s been an outbreak of box tree caterpillar in London and some of the Home Counties. The caterpillars eat the leaves and produce webbing over their feeding area which can eventually cause the plants to die.
As you’re probably aware, Box (Buxus sempervirens) is also susceptible to box blight, a fungal disease which can also be devastating.
Box is such a useful plant in our gardens, especially where you want some formal structure. It can be clipped tightly into almost any shape and is pretty easy to grow so it’s difficult to imagine our gardens without it.
But over the past couple of years some of my clients have been nervous about spending money on box plants, especially if we’re using it for a formal hedge – so what alternatives are there? Here are a few options…
This is a really good alternative to Box as it looks very similar to Box and can be clipped in the same way. It’s not as drought tolerant as Box so this is something to bear in mind if you have well drained soil and it’s quite slow to grow so can be more expensive. It’s also available as topiary shapes including balls.
Lavender makes a good low hedge too, although won’t have the formal feel of box when it’s in flower in the summer and does require full sun to grow well. Lavandula angfustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is a good variety and fully hardy in the UK climate. ‘Dwarf White’ is a good variety where space is an issue.
Phillyrea angustifolia has small glossy green leaves and is sometimes used in Scandinavian parterres as it’s hardier than Box. It also produces tiny scented white flowers in summer and will grow up to 4ft if required.
Pittosporum have small glossy evergreen leaves and can be clipped. ‘Silver Magic’, ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Limelight’ are good dwarf varieties which can be kept small.
Lonicera nitida will form a neat hedge up to 3ft tall but it’s vigorous and needs to be kept in check if you want that crisp look. Let it grow and it becomes a rather ugly, swiftly!
If you’re worried about your box plants, the RHS website is a good resource with information about how to recognise box tree caterpillar and box blight including details of how to treat and prevent them from spreading.