Monday, April 20, 2015

The right type of boxwood


As I wrote in an earlier post, I was concerned about pruning English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa').  As it happened, an expert at pruning boxwoods (he works for a high-end garden designer who includes lots of boxwoods in her landscapes), confirmed what my mother and mother-in-law had taught me.  If you shear off the tops of English boxwoods, you'll have to wait a while for the "sticks" to leaf out.  The proper way is to reach down into the plant and prune out in bunches.

This did not suit me.  I had let boxwoods that came from my mother-in-law's home in Virginia (brought here in the early 80's) grow in a a rather harm-scarum fashion.  What I should have done was prune them every year, and I would have had the hedges I wanted.

But not to worry.  The expert pruner approved of my choice for the new arch garden - Buxus microphylla var. koreana 'Winter Gem'.  This boxwood can be pruned any time into any desired shape (well almost).

Seen above is an example.  In 1841 (yes; that is the correct date), Sarah Ferrell took over the garden her mother had started in 1832 around a home in LaGrange, Georgia.  Sarah immediately added boxwoods to create a maze and parterres that spelled out different words.  She used English boxwoods and probably kept them pruned so they didn't get out of control like mine.

Sarah's garden was taken over in 1916 by Ida Cason Callaway, wife of successful businessman Fuller Callaway who bought the Ferrell property (the Ferrell house was replaced by an Italianate mansion in 1916), and named the estate Hills & Dales.  Sarah's gardens had languished for several years, but Ida restored many of the plants and added fountains and statuary.  Upon Ida's death in 1936, Alice Hand Callaway, wife of Fuller Callaway, Jr., began her reign in the garden and nurtured it for 62 years, until her death in 1998.

Today, the magnificent gardens and the mansion are open to the public.  I was lucky to have a tour led by Alice in 1998 and had obtained her permission to feature her story on HGTV's A Gardener's Diary.  Sadly, and very shockingly, Alice died soon after my visit.

So, I was happy to see the gardens so well tended when I went back last week.  I was also interested in the state of the boxwoods.  Back in the mid-19th century, Sarah Ferrell had planted a parterre which read "G-O-D".  The tour leader explained last week that this area was replanted recently with B. microphylla 'Winter Gem'.  Thus, the letters can be sheared easily so one can readily discern the spelling originated by Sarah Ferrell.

Where was I going with all this?  Oh yes.  I have now added the same 'Winter Gem' to the upper part of the arch garden.  With all the rain, though, I haven't gotten the boxwood pruner over here to shear the straight lines for me.  I could do it, but he uses a plum line and gas-powered trimmers.  If he doesn't have time soon, I will tackle it myself.  The good thing about this boxwood is that it takes to shearing and rebounds quickly if you make a mistake.

I wish I could have gotten a proper, right-side-up camera angle on the parterre above, but my vantage point was higher, and I was already way behind the tour group.  In the foreground is the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), which Alice Callaway kept in hedge form.  I have it here on the property, but I let it go so we can use it to create tall backgrounds for church arrangements.  This time of year, it looks pretty scrubby, but it makes for long-lasting branches in the summer through fall when little "apples" appear and make it even more interesting.

I highly recommend this garden.  It has so much personality, and I love the fact that it has been overseen almost continuously for 183 years.  It is easily one of Georgia's oldest gardens, and even though much has been added or replaced, there are still trees that were planted by Sarah so long, long ago.  It's a very special place.