Fighting back: Box Blight

Box Blight east wing


In early 2015 one of our Gardeners’ discovered evidence of Box Blight at Ickworth. This is something that we had experienced before, with small sections of hedging being removed and replaced with Yew, however the extent of the Blight this time was widespread, affecting the Italianate Garden, Walled Garden and Albana hedges; almost 3km of hedging altogether. Over the last two years we have been working on a plan on how best to deal with the outbreak.

The main issue is that there is no current permanent or effective cure for blight; spraying, different trimming routines, and cutting back are thought to have little impact in the long term. Whilst the hedging may not actually look ‘too bad’ at present and we could try and save all the hedges using these techniques, this is only delaying the inevitable, and we have to consider our Italianate Garden over the long term.

What can we do?

So if there is no cure, where has this left us? The RHS advice is to remove and burn the hedge, dig out the roots and soil. We could then technically replant with Box. However, the fungal spores that cause blight can live in the soil for up to 15 years and are spread by water, wind as well as by people, animals and tools. Given the widespread nature of the disease across Ickworth and the country this would be a waste of resources, and add into this the other threat of the Box Tree Caterpillar as well, we have decided to replant with the more resilient Yew. Box has provided the structure of the gardens for 200 years, creating the garden rooms and evergreen Italianate feel, however the gardens have always been evolving over the generations and must do it again!

Our Action Plan

The initial project has been planned to take place over the next three years in four distinct phases.

We have currently just finished Phase 1 which took place over the winter months. The ‘Hotel hedge’ which was a younger section of Box Hedging has been removed and burnt along with the soil, before fresh compost and grit went down with 90 Yew plants and an irrigation system to water them in. During Phase 1 we have also tested some of the different techniques, which we can then feed into RHS research on the disease to help other gardens. The hedge on the Italianate Garden Terrace, and the hedge in the Walled Garden are some of the oldest and these hedges will be used to test some ‘cultural improvements’. Both hedges have been cleared of all dead material and weeds on the ground, and had fresh compost, new edging and cutting back of surrounding vegetation so we can monitor the condition of these.

Over the following three winters we will gradually replace all of the Box in the Italianate Garden with Yew; 2000 plants altogether.

How can you help?

You can help us in our work to re-create our gardens for their next chapter by making a donation for a section of hedge or yew tree(s). Donating £10 covers the cost of one Yew Tree with all donations welcome.

Grow our Gardens - Sponsor a Yew (PDF / 0.8125MB) download