There are so many reasons to grow boxwood: It's gloriously evergreen, fragrant, deer-resistant, and long-lived. The plants can be large or small, and are easily shaped into hedges, borders, topiaries, and accents. And their history is rich. The ornamental shrub has been cultivated for millennia: It appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh, circa 2000 BCE; was discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs; and later figured in architectural plans for English, French, Belgian, and Italian gardens.
When Europeans brought the plant to North America in the mid-1600s, it quickly flourished up and down the Atlantic seaboard, including at the homes of our founding fathers. When I devised the plan for my farm almost two decades ago, I started by laying out boxwood hedges and accent shrubs. I was lucky to be introduced to George Bridge, the local "boxwood king," whose supply came from a southern Virginia farm that had been growing the American species (Buxus sempervirens) for Christmas trimmings since the 1920s. George knew the value of mature shrubs and made them available to lucky gardeners like me who were searching for large, healthy specimens.
My boxwood has become one of the defining features of my farm, along with the antique white-spruce fences enclosing the fields and the allées of trees I planted. It is such fun to watch guests get excited when they visit my stable and see the 650-foot-long hedges, pruned to resemble billowing clouds.
More than a few have brought up the late Belgian landscape designer Jacques Wirtz, who was renowned for his sculptural creations. I wasn't familiar with him when I dreamed up this spot, but I like to think he would have been pleased with what I've done.
There are more than 100 commercially available cultivars of this versatile plant, from dwarf varieties, good for parterres (low, formal displays), to giant hedges. My love for them has grown so much over the years that I've started my own "nursery" on the farm. Keep reading to see how it's come to life.
1. Four years ago, I ordered several hundred "Green Mountain" seedlings from the Musser Forests nursery, in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
2. Using twine to ensure neat rows, I planted the bare-root cultivars in holes six to eight inches deep, and watered them thoroughly twice a week until they were established, which took about six months.
3. In just three years, the seedlings grew into shrubs large enough to be transplanted into beds. I dug them up and placed them in pots for transport.
4. Boxwood has shallow roots, so I dug holes the same depth as the root balls but twice as wide, and added organic root-stimulant fertilizer. I then placed each plant in a hole, backfilled them, and watered well.