During the winter we always experience the several weeks of unusually bad weather, I always like to check on how plants had made it through. This is one way I evaluate if a plant is a good selection to grow int the Victoria area. Some plants do better than others in cold weather while others clearly are not really hardy here. Hydrangeas all look bedraggled and brown as do many of the semi-deciduous plants. Lots of cutting back will be needed in the spring when it starts to warm up again. One plant that doesn’t suffer one bit is Common Box (Buxus sempervirens) and it is used extensively here.
Common Box or Boxwood has been with us for a very long time, in fact its first recorded use was during the Egyptian era around 4000 BC where they had clipped hedges of it. Ever since that time it has reappeared throughout history. On a side note it was used by the Romans for their gardens, and believe it or not, they had special slaves called Toparius (creators of topia or landscapes) who maintained their specially clipped bushes. Here in Victoria Boxwood is mostly used for edging and to give a more formal feeling to a garden design.
Speaking of topiary, the craze really got going in renaissance Italy. In their warmer climate they used Cypress which proved not hardy enough for northern Europe, box became the obvious choice being evergreen and being finely textured which is needed for creating topiary forms. This is how Common Box became so associated with English and particularly French gardens. Levens Hall in Cumbria and Chateau de Villandry are two famous examples. More recently a Boxwood (look-a-like) was on display in the movie ‘Edward Scissorhands’ in which Edward created fantastic forms with his ‘scissorhands’ and became a celebrity.
Boxwood is slow growing with finely textured foliage but in its native habit it can grow into a large shrub or small tree of 10ft with a width of 4 to 6ft. Because of its slow growth, it should be planted for a couple of years before being clipped for the first time. Cutting back will encourage a more bushy, dense growth. Hedges and topiary, when mature, are usually cut twice a year, It is done once around May and then later near the end of August or early September.
Boxwood is a very versatile shrub that tolerates very low light to full sun and continues to look healthy and bushy. It is very adaptable to most soils and can withstand a fair amount of drought, but prefers rich well drained soil. It is one of the few plants which will tolerate a more alkaline location. Common Box is rated at at zone 6 (-10f to 0 . or to -18c). In cool weather it often takes on an attractive bronzy coloring which disappears when warm weather returns.
Buxus sempervirens is the most common box and has numerous cultivars such as ‘Elegantissima’ which has leaves edged in cream. Another popular form is ‘Suffruticosa’ that is slower growing and is most suitable used for parterres and small hedges. There is one other species worth mentioning. Buxus microphylla which is exactly the same as Common Box is smaller in all ways and generally needs no clipping. Several forms of it are popular in rock gardens or for very short edging. ‘Compacta’ and ‘Green Pillow’ are the most popular for rock gardens and for very low edging. A variety known as var. koreana is particularly popular with bonsai enthusiasts who choose it for its narrower leaves and loose spreading habit. It is also the most hardy.
Care must be taken in placement of Common Box near roadways which may be given a salt treatment during cold periods. Buxus sempervirens is very easily damaged from too much salt and unsightly damage and even death of the plant can occur.
More about Boxing the Buxus:
The Wiki page is always a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buxus_sempervirens
How to grow and maintain a Box hedge: http://www.boxtrees.com/hedging.html
Historic St Andrew’s Cathedral: http://www.standrewscathedral.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45&Itemid=65
Until we meet again later….