By Barry Fugatt
Boxwood. The very word brings to mind elegantly clipped formal gardens, the type once strolled by French and British nobility in centuries past. Europeans have long been passionate about boxwood.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that early European settlers to American shores brought their love of boxwood with them. Boxwood quickly became a mainstay in 17th and 18th century Colonial gardens.
Present day gardeners seem less enchanted with boxwood than gardeners from previous generations. And, that’s a shame. The versatile broadleaf evergreen is wonderfully equipped for a variety of garden roles. Plus, boxwoods available today are far superior to those that were available even 30 years ago.
Gardeners across the state typically use boxwood as a low to medium height hedging plant. While it excels in that common role, boxwood is capable of so much more. It looks great, for instance, tucked into a mixed shrub border where it’s glossy, fine-textured foliage nicely contrasts with that of most deciduous flowering shrubs.
I also include boxwood in herbaceous perennial beds. Its presence among perennials provides a handsome evergreen background for the wild and wonderful colors and textures of herbaceous perennials. Plus, when most perennials have died to the ground in winter, boxwood’s evergreen foliage continues to provide the garden with much needed color and structure.
Boxwood also excels as a container plant. Few shrubs look more lovely growing in a large decorative container. Place container grown boxwood near an entry or on a patio for a tidy, sophisticated look.
Buxus, the boxwood genus, contains lots of species and many cultivars. Local gardeners are wise to select tough cultivars that survive our hot summers and cold, windy winters. I recommend the following.
'Green Mountain' - This hybrid has dark green foliage that stays throughout the winter without taking on the yellow-bronze look common to many boxwoods. It naturally grows into an awesome pyramidal shape that beautifully stands out in a shrub border. It's also a premiere container plant. It slowly grows to a height of 5 feet with spread of 3 to 4 feet.
'Green Velvet' - Here is great new boxwood that holds its deep green color throughout the winter. This cold hardy, globe shaped cultivar, 3 feet tall and wide, is an ideal low hedges plant. It also looks great tucked into a mixed border.
'Green Gem' - This compact grower, only 2 feet tall and wide, is a near perfect border plant for use along a walk or patio edge. It's also a favorite of mine to mix into a perennial bed and to place in decorative pots.
All three boxwoods are hardy throughout the state. They prefer well-drained soil with a pH range between 6.5 and 7.0. They will grow in full sun, but foliage quality is slightly better where they receive some afternoon protection from summer sun. As with most evergreens, weekly summer watering is important.