As the weather turns warmer and Spring bulbs begin to peek from the newly thawed ground, garden plans begin to sprout…and my thoughts are drawn to my all-time favorite shrub of green. The illustrious boxwood.
The boxwood is deemed as “Man’s Oldest Garden Ornamental”. It truly is one of the oldest and most appreciated shrubs. It’s European history dates back to the mid 1600’s. It is said that the first American planting of the boxwood was in 1653 on Shelter Island, the Northwest part of Long Island in New York. ( I grew up on Long Island, and having this bit of knowledge of my cherished boxwood’s American history is indeed exciting!) During the Colonial Revival era, the boxwood continued to be the ornamental shrub of choice. The fascination with the boxwood in America continued in the early 19th century. Its timeless appeal is valid today as it was through history.
Boxwood plants are primarily used in landscape as specimen plants or in planters, as an edging, hedges, groups, parterres and even as topiary. For those of us in planting zones 4-8, this venerable plant can grace our landscapes! It is a low maintenance shrub, although it does require specific planting and mulching instructions. There are over 90 species of the boxwood plant and over 365 different cultivars! The varieties span from light green to dark green, mound forming or spherical in shape. Some are best for hedges, some are best on their own. Indeed, there is a style for every garden or home. Although the boxwood brings to mind traditional formal plantings, its beauty can be incorporated into contemporary landscape designs.
And now to consider the hedge…
Oh, the beauty of the formal hedge, the “Parterre” and the “Knot Garden”! The Parterre is a formal garden construction of tightly edged, clipped hedging. In the 15th century, French Parterres originated during the French Renaissance. A great example of this elegant planting can be found in the gardens of the Chateau of Versailles. During the 16th century, the Baroque period embraced the boxwood with their plantings of Knot Gardens, which are pruned in geometric patterns for a clean, simple, uncluttered look. Elegance in simplicity, indeed! The English again opted for this green jewel of a plant in the creation of their English Gardens. Kensington Palace is a wonderful example of the English garden laden with Boxwoods.
So, as the French & Italian villas and the English manors of Europe have historically used the boxwood in creating a desirable, structured and formal landscape, We too, can add this appealing shrub to ours. Whether it is in a mass of a foundation planting or hedge, a potted classic beauty, or an embellishment to a formal garden, the boxwood is a classic, timeless addition. Whether you choose a boxwood variety that requires trimming or one that is left alone to grow, choosing to add these shrubs is an elegant, worthy choice.