January 13th, 2013
Box (Buxus) diseases have spread over the country the past years, forcing plant cultivators, garden centers, middle men and historical gardens to take measures before things get worse. It seems we are now entering a new phase in the fight against the disease. In many cases, the first option was to use pesticides. This turned out to be a costly affaire, plus it comes with considerable health and safety concerns for both gardeners and visitors.
This period did give the field time to look for viable replacements of the original box, a plant used for centuries in gardens all over the world. Replacing the box by plants that seem less vulnerable for disease now seems to be the best workable option.
Earlier I wrote about the ongoing efforts at Het Loo, where around 25 kilometers (!) of box will be replaced with Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’.
At Assumburg in Heemskerk, the same replacement plant is used, but at least they did not have to dig out the old box plantation: as this aireal view shows they started from scratch (removing an ill maintained layout).
The tabula rasa at Assumburg (Google Earth, 2005).
I also mentioned Sypesteyn in Loosdrecht in that earlier post, but had no idea how and when they were going to act. A blog post on their website makes clear that work to replace the 100 year old box plants is now on its way. This same group also maintains the gardens at nearby Slot Zuylen, where they fear the same needs to be done somewhere in the near future. At Sypesteyn, a different plant is chosen to replace the box: Lonicera nitida.
So there are at least two types of plants used to replace box plantations in historical gardens. There are probably more, in different gardens and/or different countries. Having to replace the box is a drama for the gardeners concerned (and for the garden owners, as it does not come cheap). But it will be interesting how these different approaches turn out in the long term. The use of different plants -no matter how close they resemble the box they are supposed to imitate- should lead to a more diversified experience of historical gardens. We’ll just need to be aware that this experience is different from the one intended by its designer (which is the case in most historical gardens anyway).
A new garden history is in the making here, forced by epidemic plant diseases, in stead of by fluctuations in availability and taste. It may prove to be an inspirational change from the usual ‘ticking the Box on the plant list’ in future restorations of historical gardens.
Box disieases force owners of historical gardens to look out for viable replaments. Different gardens choose different plants. The experience of historical gardens could well change in the near future.