"If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May queen"

Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven.

You’ve probably seen the beautiful sculpted hedges and bushes displayed in many British gardens. It’s a staple of topiary and garden landscaping. Many times what you’re looking at is Buxus, a popular ornamental plant.

As a native species, Buxus reflects England’s biodiversity and natural beauty while attracting a variety of helpful insects including bees to pollinate its flowers in the Spring.

Buxus is popular in modern days, however it was also very popular in the Renaissance era, being used in gardens of the rich and powerful however it’s been in use for thousands of years and frequently appeared in Roman literature. In Britain, for example, Roman burials coffins sometimes containing sprays of Buxus.

As far back as 79 CE , varieties of Buxus were described by Pliny the Elder. Before his untimely yet heroic death when he went ashore to help evacuate victims of the eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii, Pliny the Elder wrote 37 volumes of ‘Historia Naturalis’ including facts and an extensive review of Buxus. 

Pliny the Elder first encyclopedia of Natural History BUXUS

He wrote “It grows thickest in Corsica, where it bears an objectionable blossom which causes the bitter taste in Corsican honey.

Various Buxus varieties were used medically throughout history. Buxus leaves, bark and wood contain steroids, alkaloids, tannin, chlorophyll and lignin and have been used to treat such maladies as gout, urinary tract infections, intestinal worms, chronic skin problems, syphilis, haemorrhoids, epilepsy, headache, piles, leprosy, rheumatism, HIV, fever and malaria, just to name a few.

In Turkey, they make a tea with Buxus and to this day it is still consumed to treat anthelmintic, diaphoretic, and cholagogue.

Buxus isn’t just used for its beauty in the gardens, its wood is an excellent choice for detailed carving, due to its fine grain and resistance to splitting and chipping. Its commonly used to make wooden combs, chess pieces, decorative carvings, knife handles, prayer beads and decorative boxes.

Buxus wood has a high density, one of the few woods which is denser than water, making it suitable for wooden spoons. In fact, Buxus wood is so heavy that it does not float in water.

Due to the high density of Buxus wood it’s a great wood for making musical instruments; everything from high end violin parts to flutes. The wood of the Buxus been used to make many of the parts for stringed instruments since antiquity. Buxus was also the primary material used to make Great Highland bagpipes.

The British Memorial Garden Trust developed a beautiful garden in the heart of Lower Manhattan in New York city, USA called the Queen Elizabeth II September 11th Garden. It was given to the City in memory of the British and Commonwealth citizens who lost their lives during the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II The British Memorial Garden Trust

This stately garden displays the rich tradition of English topiary while celebrating the historic ties of friendship and unity between the United States of America, the Commonwealth countries and the United Kingdom. The luscious green spires of Graham Blandy boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) add punctuation and depth to this truly beautiful garden.

What good plant doesn’t have a great folk story? This legend about Buxus is sure to satisfy! At one time, people believe witches knew every twig, stem and leaf of every plant they came across. However, due to the compact foliage and small leaves of the Buxus, the witch would become confused while trying to count the leaves. The witch, try as she might, could not avoid losing her place; causing her to become so distracted that she would forget about any of her nefarious plans which may have included anything from stealing vegetables from your garden to babies from your house!

Buxus has small leaves and scented foliage. Its ability to withstand temperature changes and is tolerant of close shearing, making it a great ornamental plant choice for parterres, topiary and hedges.

Buxus is monoecious, so both male and female flowers are found on the same plant. Clusters of green-yellow flowers grow in the leaf axils, each one comprising several male flowers and a terminal female flower.

Buxus is a slow growing plant which does not require much maintenance and can withstand drought once established. This plant is a long living species; some have been determined to be over a hundred years old.

Some helpful tips for working with Buxus are to prune in late spring and summer. After heavy pruning you should supply fertiliser aid in regeneration and growth. Root semi-ripe Buxus cuttings in the summer and then graft them in the winter.

Buxus can grow in most soil and although it tolerates full sun if it’s soil is kept moist, it does best in partly in shaded areas.

Some possible caveats to consider with Buxus are leaf spot, root rot, dieback, canker and powdery mildew. Some of the pests to look out for with Buxus are caterpillars, psyllids, leaf miner, scale, box sucker and glasshouse red spider mite.

If you’re looking for a traditional ornamental plant that’s hardy, easy to work with and attractive, (and protects your household from witches) look no further than the genus Buxus.

When it comes to topiary, Buxus fits in perfectly with every garden design, from formal to country style gardens and is one of our most requested types of hedging.

Buxus comes in many shapes and sizes and can be sculpted to fit any surrounding or ambiance. It can even be used as a border or wall while providing any garden area a beautiful atmosphere.

Buxus can be formed into many shapes, cubes, cones, globes and low-growing hedges are all common, attractive and easy to maintain.

Buxus isn’t just for the garden. These topiary delights can be grown in containers as well. Using Buxus on both sides of your entrance is sure to delight and impress your visitors while adding natural sophistication to your home. Because of its slow growing nature and ease of maintenance, Buxus remains an ideal entryway plant.

At Cowen Landscapes in Kent, we’re specialists in Buxus. Contact us and we can help you to get the garden of your dreams.

Cowen Landscapes
07598 160812 

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