Reynolda on the Forefront of Identifying Replacements in Response to Boxwood Blight Epidemic
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (April 1, 2019) – The boxwood blight that is wiping out generations-old plants across the southeast hit Reynolda last fall, and now experts there are ready to respond by identifying a replacement shrub that is both consistent with the historic landscape and resistant to disease.
“There is a long history of this landscape being progressive and adapting to change,” says Jon Roethling, director of Reynolda Gardens. “The decisions we make today about how to address this epidemic puts Reynolda at the forefront of demonstrating approaches for responding to our changing environment.”
Boxwoods have long been a critical design feature of the Reynolda landscape, framing the forecourt of south façade of the bungalow since 1937. The boxwoods in landscape architect Thomas Sears’s original plans were English Dwarf Boxwoods; however, this species was problematic and was replanted several times without success. Then, in 2015 as part of its landscape restoration project, Reynolda replanted the forecourt with Justin Brouwers Boxwood, also called Korean Dwarf Boxwood and affectionately known as the “baby boxwoods” among the Reynolda staff.
Roethling says his staff first noticed discoloration in the boxwoods along the perimeter of the forecourt garden in early fall 2018. The discoloration was soon diagnosed as blight infection, a serious and highly contagious fungal disease that first appeared in the United Kingdom and later appeared in the United States at a couple of North Carolina nurseries. Shortly after diagnosing the boxwoods, Reynolda removed all infected boxwoods and treated all plants in close proximity to prevent the disease’s spread. In total, 80 of the 300 boxwoods in front of Reynolda House were removed in the fall. Today, all 300 boxwoods have been removed in preparation for new shrubs that will be planted by a team of staff volunteers on Monday, April 8.
“Reynolda was not alone in seeing boxwood blight affect our plantings this fall,” says Karl Erik, director of operations at Reynolda House. “Landscapes in our surrounding neighborhoods and beyond also suffered. But here at Reynolda, addressing changes in our historic landscape is a particularly sensitive task that we approach with caution, and in consultation with experts in the field.”
Erik and Roethling talked with historic garden specialists, researched how other sites were dealing with the blight, and ultimately connected with Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Mich. The nearly 40-year-old nursery agreed to provide a recommended replacement to the boxwoods at no cost to Reynolda, in hopes that it might become a case study for boxwood replacements for other historic landscapes.
Roethling and team selected Gem Box inkberry holly, a dense, ball-shaped plant with small dark green leaves. A plant that is native to the Piedmont Triad, its foliage develops attractive red tips during the spring. He says that it’s a fitting replacement for the design of Reynolda’s forecourt.
“Our responsibility is to both maintain the integrity of the original landscape design and character, and respond to the changing needs of our environment,” Roethling says. “We’ll be watching these new plants closely and sharing information with the nursery and our colleagues working in other historic landscape and gardens.”
Reynolda staff and volunteers, including several volunteers participating as part of Wake Forest University’s Pro Humanitate Week, will roll up their sleeves and plant the 300 new holly shrubs on Monday, April 8, starting at 9 a.m. Updates will be shared on Reynolda’s social media platforms: facebook.com/rhmaa, facebook.com/reynolda.gardens, and on Instagram at @CurateReynolda and @reynoldagardenswfu.
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 50-year-old museum at the center of Reynolda’s 180 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of the country manor of R. J. Reynolds. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is adjacent to and affiliated with Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit reynolda.org.
MEDIA NOTE: Media are invited to cover the replanting of Reynolda’s forecourt on Monday, April 8, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact Sarah Smith to coordinate coverage.