Elizabethan knot gardens were defined by low hedges of Buxus and the French took the idea to another level with the parterre, a less intricate garden design, but one where the pattern itself is still an ornament. Because it can be trimmed to any height, and is able to withstand almost any climatic conditions, Buxus is the perfect choice for anything from a formal garden to the most compact of city courtyards.
A Landscape designer from Zones Landscaping Specialists uses Buxus to add structure and formality to planting design. “Box hedging can form a fine-textured edge to planted beds, lawns and paths, as well as year round structure to formal vegetable gardens.”
Buxus sempervirens will grow to approximately two metres and under most circumstances require pruning only a couple of times a year. It’s generally recommended this is done in mid-spring after the first new growth and again in autumn. Avoid pruning during summer when the heat of the sun will adversely affect new leaves.
Buxus is easy to grow and is noted for its longevity, adapting well to conditions almost anywhere in New Zealand. It can tolerate wind and frost, heavy soils, sun, shade and drought and is easily grown from cuttings.
The ‘clipability’ of Buxus makes it a natural choice as a living sculptural garden element, says the landscape designer. “Abstract spheres and cubes can be used to frame entryways and add whimsy to planting schemes and focal points when placed in a pot on a formal view axis.”
But while it’s an ideal container plant, Buxus needs plenty of room for water and food; too small a container and the leaves can quickly become yellow. Re-potting – or trimming the roots – is advised every few years. To maintain dense foliage when clipping, begin when the plant is young. The species is also a hungry one and should be fed with a fertiliser containing nitrogen a couple of times during the growing season.
While Buxus sempervirens is the most commonly grown variety, there are a number of others available, including the hybrid Buxus ‘Green Gem’, which shares many of the same characteristics as sempervirens, and is a preferred topiary option because it needs less clipping. Green Gem is also more resistant to ‘Box Blight’, but wet feet during winter can adversely affect the plant. Box Blight is a fungal infection affecting the leaves and stems that leads to blackened stems and bare patches. Removal of infected parts and use of copper spray is recommended to arrest the spread.
The important thing about incorporating Buxus is that it’s added with purpose and intention and planted in the correct manner, says the landscape designer. “In order to create a dense and continuous hedge, plant at 15-20cm, staggered for added density. The popularity of the species means that Buxus is readily available, even as a ready grown hedge, from a number of specialist nurseries.”
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