I WOULD say that 20 years ago if anyone had asked about growing a low, compact, evergreen hedge the default answer among many gardeners, designers and nursery owners would have automatically been without any hesitation: Box (Buxus sempervirens), writes TOM ATTWOOD. Today the effects of box blight caused by the spread of a highly successful fungus Cylindrocladium buxicola has changed among many of us (myself included) our response to that initial question. Having worked in gardens and seen at first hand the devastating effects of box blight on a large (and small scale) it has knocked my confidence when it comes to using it, in fact I won’t use it at all in my own work. Therefore, what else is there where box did such a good job? Well, there are some pretty good substitutes and from my experience one of the most convincing alternatives is using a member of the Euonymus family. Many of you will be familiar with the excellent variegated Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety,’ a brilliant plant for sun (or more commonly) light shade where something bright is needed. I’m not suggesting this cultivar but another Euonymus, a different species in fact: Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire.’ The first time I saw this used a few years ago in a National Trust property I was so impressed with it that I had to seek out one of the gardeners who could tell me what it was. Since then I have used it myself on several occasions. When box blight was beginning to take hold in the early 2000's the holy grail at the time to save us from our blight bedraggled woes was Ilex crenata a tight-leaved evergreen that was compact and would lend itself to shaping and cutting. However, it became apparent that this too had its own potential health problems largely brought on by the wet conditions prevalent in certain regions of the UK, including Cumbria. I’ve yet to see a truly convincing example of this plant used to great effect in our county but I would love to be corrected by someone on this. The size of the hedge you want will of course dictate the scope of the plants you can choose. If your ultimate aim is for something 40-50cm tall then you could afford to look elsewhere at plants such as yew (Taxus baccata) and maybe some of the hollies (Ilex) but for anything less than 40cm I would personally be looking at ‘Green Spire ‘or one of the very similar cultivars that are available such as Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Rocket.’

Next week: sowing the seeds of berrying trees