Gardening is like that. One minute you are pottering contentedly in the midst of your healthy and happy patch and then from nowhere comes a nasty to knock you off your perch.
In my case its Phytophthora ramorum, a disease that has apparently been responsible for the virtual elimination of native oak species in California. It landed on our shores in 2002 and was given the scary name of ‘sudden oak death’. Since then, it has been found at hundreds of sites across the UK.
In our garden, has taken out not an oak but a viburnum growing tall and proud on the high fence at the very top of the Flintstones garden. It wreaked its havoc in a matter of weeks. Just a few browning leaves to start with but then dieback on a large scale with cancerous looking lesions on the stems. My alarm prompted me to send a photo to the excellent plant identifying app SmartPlant and their expert, Jaco, came back within hours with some painful news. Basically, get rid and quick!
More specifically, he said I should remove the viburnum in its entirety along with the soil around the roots. Then the really alarming bit: burn the plant and sterilise the tools by washing with soap and hot water and then wiping with bleach or alcohol.
A bit more online research offers little comfort. According to the RHS, P. ramorum and its near neighbour P. kernoviae ‘pose a serious threat to the environment and commerce’. They add: ‘A major epidemic could have far-reaching consequences for woodland and heathland habitats, as well as gardens, amenity plantings and the horticultural industry’.
I have accordingly blitzed a beauty which should by now have been clad with sweet smelling winter flowers and bagged it all up ready to burn. I have also scrubbed and treated the tools. But this nasty is apparently a notifiable disease so I’m not burning the evidence until I have advice (and maybe inspection) from the Animal and Plant Health Agency and / or Forestry Commission.
On the positive side, the RHS say native English oaks are more resistant to the pathogen that their American counterparts. Most of the outbreaks to date have been on nurseries, affecting container-grown ornamental plants such as rhododendron, camellia and indeed viburnum. More recently, however, it has attacked and killed mature Japanese larch with particular outbreaks here in the south west, plus south Wales, south west Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Woe is me! 😣