The suburban favourite is playing a guilty role in the tree’s dieback disease
7:30AM GMT 13 Nov 2012
It gets worse. Not only is the ash tree, a defining feature of the British countryside, under threat, but now we have to be wary of that most comforting and familiar attribute of our gardens, the privet hedge.
Dr Stephen Woodward, of Aberdeen University, warns that privet, while itself showing no symptoms of the dreaded dieback, might be spreading the disease when its leaves fall. And the same could be true of other members of its botanical family, such as lilac, jasmine, forsythia and olive trees.
He recommends that we inspect their leaves closely for incriminating signs, such as black spots on the underside; for these could well develop into deadly spores. “We need
people to watch out for the unusual,” he says. And if we do find anything suspicious, we should bury the leaves to stop any spores from being blown into the vicinity of vulnerable ash trees.
The snag is that privets are evergreen, so their leaves are falling all the time. Few gardeners will have the inclination or the stamina to engage in a permanent cycle of inspection and burial.
The danger now is that alarmed householders might be tempted to dig up their existing hedges – and replace them with something even more suspect. I am thinking in particular of the notorious leylandii, which grows quickly and virtually uncontrollably, causing countless acrimonious disputes with neighbours whose gardens are progressively deprived of light. In that case, the cure might well prove more harmful than the disease.