Buxaceae (boxwood family)
Zones 6-10 (all of the South)
And so with the Tree Boxes--the neatest and prettiest of evergreen trees; always fresh and pleasant to look on. They grow better here than even in their native climate; as does, also, the Dwarf Box, for edgings. Thomas Affleck in a letter to the editor of the Natchez Daily Courier, October 28, 1854.
This boxwood has been in cultivation in America for over 200 years. It is the hedging and topiary box of many famous European and American gardens including those of Colonial Williamsburg. In the days of parterres in the Southeast and the upper South, this was the plant. It is supposedly a native of both Europe and Asia, however, some speculate that it may have actually been introduced to Europe in ancient times. I won't mention that the foliage stinks on this species because some like the smell of a wet dog.
Two forms were historically cultivated, B. sempervirens 'Arborescens' (tree box, American box) and B. sempervirens 'Suffruticosa' (dwarf box, edging box, Dutch box, slow box). Tree box grows to be a good size shrub or even an attractive small tree while the shorter, more compact dwarf box normally stays under 3 feet. This is the one primarily used for edging and parterres.
According to Plants of Colonial Days, by Raymond Taylor (1952), Abigail Davidson advertised imported box "for edging of walks" in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal of March 12, 1770. Taylor also points out that Captain Ridgeley, of Hampton, Maryland, left a will in 1787 directing that his box gardens be maintained. I can't get anybody to look after my plants when I'm gone for a week much less eternity!
Martha Turnbull made numerous references to her boxwood and parterres in her detailed garden diary (1836-1895) from Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. On October 5, 1837 she wrote "set out box in yard", while on November 15, 1841 she mentions trimming them. In 1849 she noted sticking box cuttings in January and November and On October 20, 1855 she notes "putting down box around my parterre."
Many early nurseries in the South carried boxwood especially in the Upper South and the East. Common box was not very common, however, in Texas. In an 1851-52 catalog, Thomas Affleck's Southern Nurseries of Washington, Mississippi listed "Tree and Minorca" box. I don't know what minorca box is. Montgomery Nurseries (Wilsons Nursery) of Montgomery, Alabama listed dwarf box in an 1860 catalog while in an 1881-82 catalog, Langdon Nurseries, near Mobile, Alabama offered B. communis, B. argentea, B. myrtifolia, B. latifolia, B. japonicum, and B. variegata.
B. microphylla, the Japanese or little-leaf boxwood was not introduced to Europe until 1860. It was formerly known as B. japonica. It is probably more common today in modern southern gardens than the "common box", probably because it is slightly more adapted to the constant heat and humidity. An 1857 landscape plan of Henry Watson in Greensboro, North Carolina listed a Chinese box which could possibly be a very early use of Japanese boxwood.
All forms of boxwood require good drainage. They are susceptible to nematodes as well as freeze damage on the newest leaves during severe winters or sudden cold snaps. Propagation is by cuttings.