Be Ready for the Box Tree Moth in 2018

Reports of box tree caterpillar damage were on the increase in 2017, mostly in the South East of England and London

Thankfully the risk is still very small where I’m living in the Cotswolds. But I feel it is just a matter of time before for the box tree moths start to travel West.

The Box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis) is native to East Asia and became established in the UK in 2011. Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire has the unfortunate label of being the location of the invasion after a local took a caterpillar to the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show to be identified.

Now the main areas of infestation are London and Essex, but it’s realistic to expect the problem to spread to other areas of the UK soon.

The caterpillar of the moth causes the damage by feeding on the leaves of the Box. Defoliation can be very rapid. They can also attack the bark of the box, causing the plant to dry out and die.

Always be alert for the caterpillars, which are characterised by black stripes with white dots on a light green body with hairs and a shiny head. Other signs to look out for are green balls of ‘Frass’ (waste excreta) and trails of sticky webbing. Remove the caterpillars as soon as you see them to prevent damage. With early detection Box tree moth can be controlled.

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The caterpillars can be controlled by spraying with an insecticide. You will need to spray hard to penetrate the protective webbing.  The moth’s eggs are also protected by web ‘cocoons’ that stick the box leaves together and offer an good defence against spraying. Personally I try not to recommend using insecticides, except in extreme cases. Their use can have a devastating effect on the beneficial pollinating insects. Best to use an insecticide in the evening when the risk to pollinating insects is at its lowest.

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Another solution is Box Tree Moth pheromone traps. They attract and trap the male box tree moth. With no male moths to procreate with the females then the life cycle is broken and no new caterpillars are created to cause the damage.

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The pheromone used in the trap will only attract box tree moths so other butterflies and moths should not be affected. And it does not harm beneficial pollinating insects. The main downside is the unpleasant job of regularly cleaning the traps to avoid putrefaction. But this only needs to be done during mid-March and the end of October when the box tree moth is active.

A treatment for box tree moth is Xentari, which is a biological product that is sprayed on to the box to stop caterpillar damage and is safe to use around pollinating insects. This product is now available to buy on Amazon.

In France they are trialling a tiny parasitic wasps. Millions are being released in eastern France with the hope they can kill the box tree moth eggs.

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Happy for you to contact me if you are concerned about the threat of the box tree caterpillar to your topiary and box hedging.

Image Credits: Deredactie.be Planetnatural.com Box tree moth damage Box tree moth

Success with a Stubborn Wisteria

Nothing more satisfying as a gardener than having success with a plant that is being awkward. These two wisteria had stopped flowering and the owner was contemplating cutting them down.

The wisterias had flowered in the past so there wasn’t a defect with the plants. I gave them a hard prune so all the wisterias energy was directed into fattening up the flower buds. I also gave them a good feed with a slow fertiliser and made sure they were well watered.

Thankfully this spring we have been treated to a magnificent display. Now the challenge is to keep the flowering this spectacular next year and not put it down to this being a very good year for wisterias.

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The Fashion for Cloud Pruned Yew Hedges

If you follow this blog or my social media profiles you may have noticed I am building a small collection of vintage gardening books. This is not intentional.

I find it difficult to resist when I see an interesting antique gardening book on an online auction site and my low bids seem to be winning. One lucky acquisition was this 1904 First Edition ‘Some English Gardens’ with beautiful prints of watercolours by George S. Elgood and commentary by Gertrude Jekyll.

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One print that caught my eye was a watercolour titled ‘Yew Alley at Rockingham’ and painted about 1900. The yew has been clipped in a cloud pruned fashion with magnificent waves and undulations.

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It didn’t take much research to discover this yew alley still exists. A quick search on Google revealed a hedge known as the ‘Elephant Hedge’ at Rockingham Castle. A helpful blog post on Hedge Britannia confirmed this is the same one.

The Elephant Hedge, so named because the undulations look like the backs of elephants, is 450 years old and has survived a Royalist siege in the English Civil War. Below is the image of the hedge now from the blog post, and shows how little has changed since 1900.

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Seeing this Yew hedge raised the question of when the fashion for cutting hedges like this began. Although there is evidence this hedge is over 450 years old, I am not convinced it has always be trimmed in this ‘cloud pruned’ fashion.

There is a similar yew hedge at Walmer Castle. The hedge began life in the late 19th century as a formal, clipped yew hedge that acted as a backdrop for long, flower borders. This Italian style of walkway and vista was in keeping with the fashion at the time.

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However, the hedge was neglected during the Second World War and as a result the straight, linear edges were lost as the yew continued to grow. A hard winter in 1947 with heavy snow added to the hedge becoming even more misshapen. The result was an undulating yew hedge that would have required major pruning to restore the straight, formal lines of before. So the decision was taken to follow the naturally formed contours, resulting in the cloud pruned style hedge seen below.

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Another famous yew hedge is located at Powis Castle. The history of this hedge is similar to Walmer Castle. The yews were originally planted in the 18th century as small cones and pyramids, influenced by the formal Italian garden style. But by the end of the century English landscape gardening was becoming the fashion, inspired by famous designers such as Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. So the yews were left to grow into their natural, tree-like shapes.

By the time the desire for more formal gardening had returned in the Victorian period, the yews had grown to such an extent that the only option was to shape them into the famous hedges that we see today.

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The common theme with these two famous yew hedges is they arrived at their current appearance more by accident than by choice, often after periods of neglect. I am not sure whether this is the same for the yew hedge at Rockingham Castle but George S. Elgood’s watercolour has inspired me to see ‘Elephant Hedge’ in person and find out more.

Planting a new box parterre

Work on the new parterre is continuing well. The site was cleared last autumn of all the existing planting and shrubs. I had to remove two large Spirea, which was a shame but they did not fit in with the formal look I am trying to achieve in this area.

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I have now planted a large, square box parterre with a small, square box parterre in the centre around the sculpture of the contemplative boy.

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Fortunately I had four 25cm box balls left over from another planting job in the garden so I’ve used these on the corners on the large parterre to add a bit more interest.

The box is the common Buxus sempervirens. It’s only 10-15cm high now but will soon grow when the roots have established. I want to maintain the hedge at a height of 50cm. The garden owners are currently trying to source a small stone plinth for the sculpture.

The area is planted with snowdrops, which I was careful not to disturb when planting the box. I also planted Schuberti alliums and Apricot Beauty tulips for some late Spring interest.

For the Summer display I want to plant Salvia x jamensis ‘Hot Lips’ in the area between the large and small parterre.

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This perennial is a favourite of mine for its long flowering period and its aromatic leaves. With an ultimate growth height of 50 to 100cm, the Salvia flowers will be clearly visible above the box hedging but not too tall to look out of scale.

There is now a continuity to the garden as the new parterre links with the adjacent extended parterres that are part of the new rose garden I am creating.

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Looking forward to sharing images of this area as Spring and Summer progresses.

Westbury Court Parterres

Appreciating the Dutch Style Features at Westbury Court Garden

I’ve always been interested in the Dutch style gardens that became fashionable between the late 17th and early 18th century when Britain and Holland shared the same king, William III.

Typically rectangular in shape, classical Dutch style gardens relied on a strong use of symmetry and geometrical form. They were designed to highlight the art and craft of horticulture, and were an expression of wealth for the owner.

But the Dutch style had a short life in Britain. The gardens were incredibly expensive and labour intensive to maintain. Many notable examples were destroyed less than 50 years after being built in favour of the more economical naturalistic landscapes, made fashionable by designers such as Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton.

One example a Dutch style water garden survives today at Westbury Court Garden. Continue reading “Appreciating the Dutch Style Features at Westbury Court Garden”

Pelham Crescent by Luciano Giubbilei

The garden at Pelham Crescent in London was designed by Luciano Giubbilei in 2004. The brief was to link the newly refurbished house with the recently built garage at the far end of the existing garden.

Luciano emphasised the link between the house and garden with his use of scale and proportion. A seating and dining area was created at the far end of the garden, under an elegant wooden pavilion. A water feature, made from soft-honed Acero limestone, divides the garden and adds linear structure. It was designed by water specialist Andrew Yewing. Limestone gravel is preferred to grass, reducing the ongoing maintenance requirements of the garden. Flame-textured, Scala blue limestone has been used for the steps and paving leading to the house. Three sentinel-like sculptures made from black oak add vertical structure to the garden. They were designed by the artists Malcom Martin and Gaynor Dowling. Continue reading “Pelham Crescent by Luciano Giubbilei”

Twisted pine tree inspiration

As a gardener I have a certain amount of control in the way plants grow. Take apple trees for instance. From year one they are pruned and shaped with the intention of producing the highest yield of apples as well as looking good in their garden location.

But when nature takes over this can produce some dramatic and often beautiful effects.

I visited Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend and on a walk through the graveyard surrounding the Church of the Holy Trinity, location of Shakespeare’s grave, an old twisted pine tree caught my eye.

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I love this tree for the dramatic, twisted shape of the trunk that is almost sculptural in form. Most likely caused by damage when it was a younger tree.

I also like the texture and pattern of the bark. The linear grooves flow along the twists and curves, and the bark is slightly scale-like in places, emphasizing the age of the tree.

I’m amazed the pine has lasted so long. Must have a good root system anchoring it in position and preventing the almost 90 degree angle of growth to cause the tree to topple over.

Another bonus is nature’s design has created a perfect bench for worshipers and tourists to sit on and admire the impressive thirteenth century church.