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(Species: Buxus - Family: Buxaceae)
Buxus and its origins
The botanical name Buxus is derived from the Greek word 'puxus', meaning small box, possibly relating to the fact that the dense wood was used for making ornamental boxes. Buxus is a genus of slow-growing evergreen shrubs and trees and can grow to 5m tall.
Most of the box grown in garden cultivation is the common box, Buxus sempervirens, which is a native of western and southern Europe. It can grow in forests as well as in open scrub, such as the Mediterranean maquis. Every formal garden throughout the centuries - and many less formal - features box, adding year-round green style and structure.
The plant itself is undistinguished: its leaves are small, oval and grow in opposite pairs. The small yellow-green flowers are insignificant. However, box is invaluable in the garden because of its ability to be closely cut into shapes from pyramids to peacocks.
Box plants bring a formal touch to the garden, as hedging, as screening, as anchor to amorphous planting, as container 'sentries' in corkscrews or spheres on either side of a front door.
B Suffruticosa, with small, neat leaves, is perfect for dwarf hedges and the framework of a low parterre. There are many box cultivars, notably those with variegated leaves such as white-edged Aureovariegata; compact varieties that form low mounds such as Compacta, fastigiate box Graham
Blandy and Buxus balearica, with large, rounded leaves.
How to plant:
Buxus favours a sunny or semi-shaded part of the garden and is tolerant of wind. It will grow in any soil so long as it is not waterlogged, but aside from B Hansworthiensis, which is a more vigorous cultivar of B sempervirens, it is a slow grower.
Keep box topiary well-defined and hedges sharp-edged by clipping with garden shears or topiary shears in summer. Stems can be cut back hard in late spring to promote new growth.
Box blight, a disease of the leaves and stems that can damage and even kill the plant, has become a real problem. It could be present on a plant you bring into the garden so the Royal Horticultural Society advise holding bought plants in isolation for three weeks to be sure they are free of infection, before planting out. If the disease does appear, remove and destroy affected plants, but if it is on a mature plant you wish to keep, cut out affected parts, clean up ground below of all fallen leaves and treat with XXX fungicide.
Propagation of Buxus
Take semi-ripe Buxus cuttings in summer. Cuttings usually root easily in sandy or gritty soil so if you are patient, you can grow your own parterre or hedge from cuttings.
Did you know?
Due to its high density and lack of growth rings, boxwood has been used for chess pieces, marquetry and cabinet making, as well as high-quality recorders and violin fittings.
The Japanese traditionally trim buxus plants by meticulously pinching out the whole leaf.
Box topiary has been used since ancient Rome. In his writings, Pliny the younger describes a terrace as 'adorned with a representation of diverse animals in box'.