It’s been a long, hot summer and its time to revaluate the strengths in your garden. One plant you should reconsider or consider based on its continued high performance season after season is the boxwood. Boxwoods “Man’s Oldest Garden Ornament,” have been with us since Roman times and before. The first boxwoods were planted on American soil at Long Island in 1653 brought over from Amsterdam.
The three most popular types of boxwoods grown in the United States are “American” (Buxus sempiverens), “English” (buxus sempivirens ‘Suffruticosa’) and Buxus microphyllum. Sempivirens is latin for evergreen. Hybrids from ‘sempivirens’ and ‘microphyllum’, like most hybrids that are marketable, are generally faster growing and more disease resistant.
Boxwood can grow very well in the Midwest as long as two very important needs are met.
They require good drainage AND they do not “like their feet wet.” By this I mean plant them a little higher than soil level so they can drain. If the drainage is poor then leaves will discolor and depending on the severity may even die. Also, both soil and heavy mulch should not hug or smother the trunk of the shrub.
The top image and image at left are from the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The Blanke Boxwood Garden does justice to the species. I saw the Garden in its first season before I moved from St. Louis to Shawnee. So I only saw the hardscape and the young plantings but all the potential. I look forward soon to see the Rosendo . Visitor enter through a brick wall courtyard catching glimspes of the center of the garden. The entry walk leads visitors with plantings showing the perfect interplay of perennials and boxwood along the way. The center of the garden is an oval boxwood parterre accented by flowers and ground covers. A parterre is a garden where flower gardens, beds and path are arranged to form a pattern. The lower hedges map out he initials of the founder, Henry Shaw. (A future issue will have more about this fine gentlemen)
P. Allen Smith uses boxwood in two distinct ways. Traditionally sheared as a low hedge surrounding rose and herbs. He says boxwood responds well to being “put under the knife.” PAS recommends Korean Littleleaf Boxwood, Buxus microphylla koreana, for northern climate for even zones 4 withstanding temps of – 20-to 25 degrees below zero. The habit is looser and the foliage turns bronze in the winter. If you prefer greener leaves through the winter, then the Canadian hybrids of koreana and Buxus sempervirens reportedly keep their green leaves better these include ‘Green Mountain’, ‘Green Gem’ or ‘Green Mountain. The most popular variety is the Canadian ‘Green Velvet’. So if you want to start your foray into box, then ‘Green Velvet’ is the place to start. PAS also uses boxwood as a punctuation mark as in terms of framing or dotting the end of a house. He says “Just be assigning them on the corners or by the steps, you can focus or accent on different areas.”
While living in St. Louis, my wife and I rented this beautiful little cottage house. Flanking the front little walkway were two magnificent boxwoods. The subdivision was created to serve the needs of GIs returning from WWII. Next door was a beautiful soul name Lillian who moved there with her husband after the war. Lillian told me she wasn’t worried about ever loosing her sight because the scent of the box would always bring her home. What a beautiful thought.
I strongly recommend visiting an independent garden center for aid in selecting hybrids tor different locations on your property. You CANNOT rely on plant tags to make your selections at the big box retailers (i.e. Home Depot) It’s a little known fact the commercial growers have only one tag for the information regarding height and width of that variety. So talk to your garden center rep before making any purchases.