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Landscaping 101: Boxed in by Boxwood? 5 Shrubs to Try Instead


Just when we were learning to live with box blight, the box tree caterpillar is laying waste to the remains. On the Royal Horticultural Society’s web page ‘Box: Problems’ it is clear that there are many other sap-sucking insects queuing up to destroy anyone’s dream of an English country garden.

The solution, unsurprisingly, is to plant something else. There is no consensus on what this should be: Ilex crenata, a boxwood lookalike, is often put forward, though it is less easygoing about soil conditions. Other common suggestions for small-leaved, easy to clip shrubs include Lonicera nitidaTeuchrium chamaedrys, and Euonymus japonicus. We visited the RHS headquarters at Wisley, Surrey (an hour from London) and found a few surprises. Let’s take a closer look:

Photography by Jim Powell, for Gardenista.

Ed. note: These suggestions are meant for UK gardens–some of these plants are categorized as invasive in the USA, so use caution.

Dwarf Yew

 Above: The most surprising discovery was that a walled garden, divided into beds of low hedging, could be so lively and colorful in winter.
Above: Above: The most surprising discovery was that a walled garden, divided into beds of low hedging, could be so lively and colorful in winter.

Waves of shrubs interweave into informal knots, yet every plant is sign-posted and on trial. The most interesting boxwood alternatives in this trial are not imitations, like a vegetarian burger; instead they bring a new perspective altogether.

All of the parterre beds in the garden are edged with the dwarf yew Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’. Already carrying an RHS Award of Garden Merit, it is moderate in size compared with regular yew, with a shorter growth rate. “I think it has great potential,” says Matthew Pottage, the young curator at Wisley.

Berberis

 Red, orange and purple berberis are a standout in autumn and early winter.
Above: Red, orange and purple berberis are a standout in autumn and early winter.

Of the deciduous varieties, orange Berberis thunbergii ‘Erecta’ is shown here, mid-drop, while its red counterpart Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’ competes for attention. An evergreen type is Berberis thunbergii ‘Compacta’, which the trial manager Sean McDill is very happy with. “I like this berberis,” he says. “It has a nice, compact habit and after a couple of clips it has a dense, dark green surface.”



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