What to do about the Box tree caterpillar

This is one of the largest and most carefully tended gardens in Chiswick, yet as you can see from the picture above, the Box hedges have been laid waste by the caterpillar which is causing havoc across England, but particularly in London and the South East. So devastating is its appetite that the advice from the Royal Horticultural Society is to remove the pesky critters by hand or to consider replacing your Buxus with other plants. Tracey and Ian Hall are in the process of doing the latter. Their garden is the second largest in Bedford Park and they usually open it to the public for the Bedford Park Festival. This year they were havering, but decided they would go ahead regardless and that the public would forgive a few dead hedges, considering how widespread a problem this is. I had the pleasure of meeting them, seeing their garden and talking to Tracey about how she is developing it with garden designer Aila Cinar.

Photograph above: Tracey Hall in her garden. 

Designing a garden – children v adults

Tracey and Ian have five boys. When they moved in to their house in Bedford Park just over 20 years ago, Tracey was pregnant with number four. What they needed was not a garden with secluded nooks and pergolas and walkways enclosed by rose covered arches, but a nice open space where the boys could have a good kick about, with interesting features that they could also enjoy. They brought in Simon Fraser to design the space. He lost the wild, naturalistic look the garden had previously had, opening it out so Tracey could see the perimeter from the kitchen and providing a balance which suited both adults and children. The garden is designed in a T shape, with a ping pong table on one side and the children’s ‘fort’ on the other, tucked away out of sight from the patio.

The garden had been very shady. It’s so large that the three grown trees – two purple beech and an oak – don’t inhibit the sense of space, but there had been several more mature trees, casting a deep gloom and preventing the oak from growing properly. When a fungus caused the larger trees to decay, that was the excuse they needed to do a little thinning and now the garden is a sun trap, enabling Tracey to cultivate more of the flowers she loves.

The ‘children’ are now aged between 16 and 26, so the lawn has seen more use recently as a venue for 18th birthday parties, with a marquee centre stage. Aila Cinar has been looking after the garden since 2005, keeping the structure but developing the beds to provide all year round interest and the colour palette Tracey wants. “Aila is a great plantswoman” she says, “great with trees and roses and great at pruning”. Tracey likes lots of flowers in hot colours – dark purple, red and orange, and Alia has chosen irises and red and purple rhododendrons amongst others, to create the look she wants. “She listens to what I want” says Tracey, which you’d think was a basic requirement if you’re providing a service, but is apparently a rarer quality than you might think! She’s also introduced more plants with dark foliage to contrast and show off the flowers. A lot of the garden is quite formal, with sculpted bushes and low hedges She’s kept the bottom of the garden as more of a wilderness, where there has always been a fox set and each year is home to a new troop of cubs.

Replacing the Box hedges

Recently they’ve been grappling with the problem of what to do about the Box hedges, as the caterpillars have laid waste to the formal hedging in both front and back gardens. Aila has come up with two solutions – Taxus baccata (Yew) and Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly). These are two on a list of 15 suggestions she has for replacing low hedging.

Tracey and Ian’s garden is one of a number of gardens which will be open to the public between 2.00 and 6.00pm on Sunday 23 June. Charge £8.00 for entry sticker and map of garden locations. Book here. Aila will be on hand to give advice about how you might replace your dead Box. Her company Ailand Garden Design is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme.

Photographs below – Tracey Hall in her beautiful garden.