English boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, has been used in ornamental landscapes in North America for over 300 years. Boxwoods are planted as edging, hedge, screen, accent and specimen plants. Evergreen and long-lived, hardy and adaptable, English boxwoods, occasionally referred to as just plain "box," can grow to 20 feet in height and survive as far north as USDA zone 5 with a some protection from wind and ice.
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Pathways and Driveways
English boxwoods are used to create an Allee effect, delimiting the edges of paths through a garden. Boxwood-lined sidewalks guide visitors to specific parts of the landscape or house, providing both a sense of security for the guest and a control for wanderers. A boxwood lined walkway can hide unsightly views of a landscape, as well as offering the possibility of surprise when an opening in the line of boxwoods is encountered. Historic houses such as Montpelier Mansion in Maryland retain their traditional boxwood-lined pathways.
A parterre is a traditional formal garden design which consists of planting beds that are outlined by a living planting of carefully managed hedges of boxwood. Inside the usually symmetrical patterns will be plantings of perennials or annuals, though sometimes the inner spaces are left empty. Boxwood hedge mazes, which are sometimes known as labyrinths, are a key component of many traditional gardens as well as contemplative cathedral landscape designs.
Boxwood can be used in many ways because of its adaptability to various shapes and forms. Since boxwoods can be shaped as globes, columns or pyramids, they can address almost any design challenge in a garden.. There are small-leaved cultivars and dwarf forms of Buxus sempervirens, which address the small spaces of urban gardens while still providing the slow-growing stately formality of a traditional boxwood. Boxwoods are planted as foundation plants along the walls of home and buildings as well as focal points in island flowerbeds.
The art of topiary and boxwoods have been linked together as far back as the Classical Ages of Greece and Rome. The art of shaping the boxwood into flights of fancy may even extend back to ancient Egypt. In the skilled hands of a topiary master, a hedge of boxwoods can be turned into swans afloat on wind-swept waves or shelter a hideout shaped as a fairy castle. Standalone boxwoods can be shaped geometrically into spheres, rectangles and other complex physical forms; they can even be formed into evergreen representations of animals or people. In addition to garden topiary in formal settings, boxwoods make great bonsai trees.
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- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service; Growing Boxwoods in the Landscape; Erv Evans et al.; February 1999
- UConn Plant Database; Buxus Sempervirens' Mark H. Brand
- Gunston Hall: Landscape Features at Gunston Hall
- PGMNCPP: Montpelier Mansion
- "Boxwood: Its History, Cultivation, Propagation & Descriptions"; P.D. Larsen, et al.;1999
- "Complete Trees, Shrubs & Hedges"; Jacqueline Hériteau: 2005