Gardening Magazine

Box Tree Caterpillar

By Outofmyshed @OutofmyShed

Box tree caterpillar

Nearly every street I walk down in London has Box that looks like this now. You can even see one of the culprits happily munching away below. I wrote about this around 18 months ago, but it seems to be so much more visiable this year.

Box tree caterpillar

It’s not a pretty sight and when it’s this far gone, spraying with toxic chemicals or a gentler organic version, just won’t do.

I’m stunned to see that so many garden centres in London are still selling Box, especially when there are so many viable alternatives. And although I wouldn’t wish this devastation on any gardener, I do see this widespread infestation as a great opportunity to increase the biodiversity in our city by planting shrubs that will attract pollinators and feed birds, while still supplying year-round interest. We may even get a nibble of some fruits too!

Box tree caterpillar

I still really like the idea of a Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) hedge, with evergreen foliage and delicious small red berries as a huge bonus. Plants can be found at Edulis Nursery and they have a variegated variety too if that’s your bag. I’ve been growing one in a pot in my garden and it’s coming on well, with lots of fruits forming for this summer.

Box tree caterpillar
Rosemary is a lovely alternative too. Not such a tight form as Box, but evergreen, with flowers that are loved by bees and with an aromatic foliage always that’s always useful for cooking. Definitely a winner in my book.

Box tree caterpillar
A hedge of Chaenomeles japonica is a gorgeous thing, especially as it flowers so early in the year, bringing very welcome blooms and an early source of nectar for bees.

Box tree caterpillar
And it comes in this lovely deep coral colour,

Box tree caterpillar
and a vibrant red hue too.

Box tree caterpillar
I love the idea of Sea buckthorn (above) too, with its gorgeous green-green elegant foliage and nutrient-rich berries, but I’ve only seen it growing in coastal areas on very light, sandy soil, so this may not be a goer for our heavy London clay soil.

Box tree caterpillar
For those who still yearn for that tight, clipped look, Ilex crenata convexa is a handsome candidate and RHS Wisley has an ongoing trial of many box alternatives including Berberis darwinii ‘Compacta’, Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’ and Pittosporum ‘Collaig Silver’.

Box tree caterpillar

Each year, the more I espy Pyracantha berries lighting up the neighbourhood, the more I appreciate this much-maligned shrub, and although not evergreen, Rosa rugosa has joyous blooms (in pink and white), with a stonking scent,

Box tree caterpillar
and lovely red hips.

Box tree caterpillar
Or how about some gorgeous step-over apples used to define an area? You just to need to buy a whip (one year old tree bought as a bare-rooted plant in autumn) and then snip it to the height you want, anywhere from 9inches to a couple of feet, and then train the branches horizontally. A very simple, but hugely satisfying process

The alternatives to Box are endless, and as I jot these ideas down, I feel another community project coming on to replace these sad, dead specimens. By planting a host of  interesting and varied shrubs, we could further green-up our neighbourhood, rejuvenate front gardens and help to increase biodiversity in or urban enclave.


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