I have written before about the perils of Boxwood blight, a deadly fungal disease caused by Calonectria pseudonaviculata that is infecting boxwood in Salem. We have been very proactive in avoiding this disease in the garden; however, this has required frequent fungicide applications from spring through fall.
Boxwood is deeply integral to the design at Gaiety Hollow, Deepwood and other surviving Lord & Schryver gardens. The loss of these character defining shrubs would be devastating to the overall aesthetic. There is no cure for boxwood blight, only preventative measures to try to keep it out of the garden, and fungicide applications to keep it from infecting plants.
The best option is to plan ahead by identifying suitable replacement plants that are pest and disease resistant, drought-tolerant, hardy, and lower maintenance. Ideal replacements must also perform well as a structural hedge. To that end, we are starting to trial several different plants.
Lonicera pileata, with its low, spreading habit reaching 3 feet tall, is a potential replacement. Originally from China, it has small lemon-scented, fragrant flowers attractive to pollinators. With its deep green leaves, drought tolerance, and pest and disease resistance, it checks all the required boxes.
Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’, a small-leaved form of Japanese holly, offers many redeeming characteristics. It tolerates drought, shade, air pollution, poor soils, and clay soils. It can be hedged tightly to maintain the desired boxwood look.
Additional plants will be added to the trial as we move forward. Our knowledgeable volunteer gardeners had some great suggestions:
Ilex vomitoria, Yaupon Holly
Lonicera nitida, Wilson’s Honeysuckle
Ilex glabra, Inkberry Holly
Several boxwood varieties have shown some level of boxwood blight resistence. However, since the disease is so established in the nursery trade at this point, we won’t be bringing in any boxwood from outside sources.
Stay tuned as we add plants to the trials!