Over recent years, three new nasties have started attacking our most beloved of topiary plants. Two kinds of fungus (both known as ‘box blight’) and the box tree caterpillar have begun conspiring to pretty much seal the fate of a plant we’ve been growing in our gardens for centuries.
Box blight manifests itself as brown patches, which steadily dry out and eventually drop their leaves. Box tree caterpillar is the larva of an Asian moth which made its way here in 2008 – and after establishing in London, has been spreading steadily ever since. So if it hasn’t reached you yet, it looks set to do so soon.
Replacement for box
The Japanese get a bit of a raw deal when it comes to having things named after them. Japanese knotweed, Japanese encephalitis, Japanese beetles (a terrible pest in America). However, the Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) is a smashing plant – and it probably makes the very best substitute for box. For a start, the leaves are the right shape and colour, and it clips beautifully. It’s tough – growing in sun or shade, moist or dry soil, and it’s hardy too.
Another nice thing about Japanese holly is that it’s not just suitable for balls and pyramidal topiary; if you let it, it can easily grow into a hedge around your garden – even up to 4m tall. Its shiny evergreen leaves look great all year round. It’s worth a try even if you don’t have any poorly box plants to replace.
Japanese holly balls: https://www.bakker.com/en-gb/p/japanese-holly-dark-green-M48317
Un-trained Japanese holly plants: https://www.bakker.com/en-gb/p/japanese-holly-dark-green-M48318
Trained topiary pyramids: https://www.bakker.com/en-gb/p/japanese-holly-dark-green-M48319