You are probably familiar with the legend of Pandora’s box. When it was opened, plagues and terrors were unleashed upon humanity. Only hope remained within. We could all do with some optimism right now, as we continue to reel from the impacts of the pandemic on all of our lives. This week I have discovered hope in a different sort of box – my garden hedge, Buxus sempervivens.
Little green caterpillars
A few weeks ago my hedge was in a sorry state. Weakened by blight in the winter, it had succumbed in the springtime to an invasion of caterpillars. Big areas of leaves had disappeared, leaving dry twigs stuck together with sticky webs. The once lush spring growth was vanishing hour by hour. Hidden beneath the surface, hundreds and thousands of little green caterpillars were gorging themselves on the foliage.
A little internet research revealed that my box hedge was being eaten by the Box caterpillar, a newish pest which is spreading rapidly through southern England. The infestation was serious, and the hedge doomed unless I took rapid action. I tried washing off the grubs with the garden hose, picking them off with my fingers, and spraying insecticide, but nothing seemed to make much difference. The poor dying hedge was looking terrible. I started talking to my husband about getting it removed and burned. Should we employ a gardener to destroy the eyesore, or do it ourselves?
Last ditch rescue
I was on the point of phoning a landscape contractor for a quote. Then I did a little more reading, and some instinct persuaded me to try a last ditch rescue. I ordered a specialist biological remedy which targets these particular caterpillars, plus a supersize container of buxus fertiliser. I sprayed, fed and watered. As promised, the caterpillars died. Maybe it might work? I sprayed again a week later to kill new hatchings, fed again, and watered every day. The skeletal brown areas stopped spreading, but the hedge still looked ragged and broken for weeks. I wondered if it was all worth it.
This morning I looked at my hedge again. Today new green leaves are growing from every part. Even the sections which had appeared completely dead are sprouting vigorous new life. I am checking for new caterpillars every day, and if I find any, I will know exactly what to do. My hedge is going to recover. In just a few weeks, it will be back to its lovely green self. The treatment is working.
It’s only a hedge, but it really lifted my mood today. There is so much fear and gloom in the world at present, and I have been feeling low myself. The recovery of my box has given me new hope in the persistence, adaptability and creativity of human beings. It is a lovely metaphor for our ability to learn and re-grow after the ravages of Coronavirus.
My hedge got sick because I didn’t know what to look for at first. By the time I worked out what was going on, the caterpillars had multiplied and done a lot of damage. But now I am getting on top of the problem. I am vigilantly checking for any new infection, and if I find it, I can treat it straight away. In fact, after all the feeding and watering and love, my hedge will probably end up in better condition than it has been for years.
New ways forward
So let’s not be too despondent. We humans are brilliant at solving problems and discovering new ways forward. There is good news emerging on vaccines for the virus. People are finding new ways to re-start their businesses and connect with one another. Nature is resilient, especially when we lavish care and attention on it. Yes of course the Coronavirus has exacted a terrible price from our loved ones, our way of life, our livelihoods. But, looking at my greening hedge, I honestly believe today that we can emerge with fresh new gifts. Hold onto that hope.
If you have a sickly box hedge, check it for green caterpillars. If you find them, don’t despair. I highly recommend the treatment called XenTari, which you can buy from Amazon. No one is paying me to say this, but it definitely works, with no harm to birds or other insects.
Karen Lawrence is an author, blogger and yoga instructor. She lives in Billericay, Essex, UK with her family. Karen enjoys walking, gardening and outdoor swimming in her spare time. You can read more of Karen’s writing at www.karenlawrenceauthor.com. You can find out about Karen’s Yoga classes and Reflexology treatments at www.thecalmspace.co.uk