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Historic Garden’s Hedges Felled by Boxwood Blight


October 12, 2022

Garden Club of Lexington Removes 500 Boxwoods to Salvage Historic Site

In the fall of 2021, Garden Club of Lexington discovered that many of the almost 500 boxwoods in the formal gardens at Ashland, the historic home of Kentucky senator and U.S. secretary of state Henry Clay, were infected with the dreaded fungus boxwood blight. This was devastating news since club members had cared for this garden for over seventy years. They wondered what they could have done to prevent this calamity.

The landscape manager at Colonial Williamsburg shared this sage advice. “It was never a matter of IF we get it, it’s always been a matter of WHEN. It’s nobody’s fault and not something that was done incorrectly—for people to be ashamed or angry, that’s not the way to deal with it. It only becomes your fault if you ignore it.” Garden Club of Lexington did not ignore it. The garden was closed to the public while a plan was formulated, culminating in the removal of all the boxwood.

Removing the boxwood, some of which dated back to 1950, revealed the solid bones of the formal garden. But it also brought to light the tremendous amount of work that needed to be done to the brickwork around the parterres, the inadequacy of the irrigation, and other infrastructure needs. Pruning had already begun on the overgrown 70-year-old yew hedge, but it has now been pruned back to the bare wood to enable it to thrive for the next generation. 

While this work is ongoing, the boxwood removal project has given Garden Club of Lexington time to re-envision the garden for the 21st century. It has also provided opportunities to educate the public about boxwood blight, create ongoing plans for changes in the garden and generate community support for the revitalization of the garden. Good signage, both with a QR code and printed text, has been key to this educational effort and has been much appreciated by the hundreds of weekly visitors to the garden at Ashland.



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