A non-dated looking boxwood hedge: How?

joannembJuly 28, 2009

I have a colonial house---just re-did the entire porch and have a fresh slate on which to begin landscaping. I tend to lean toward a more formal style, and would really like to have boxwood serve as the skeleton (so to speak) of the design. We have a curved walk that goes to the front porch, and I would like to line the walk with English dwarf boxwoods. I want them to be no taller than 2ft. or so, so I'm hoping that this variety will be my best bet.

My question is this... My neighbors gravitate to a more informal style of landscaping and have scared me off of the "hedge" idea. I on the other hand do not like the look of boxwood mounds left natural, mulched in between. I'm looking for something more lush, so was thinking of placing them about 2 ft. apart. As they grow, I would like them to mesh together to form a kind of hedge which would serve as a backdrop for some lower perennials to line the walk.

Is this a 'dated' look? Our neighborhood is full of overly sheared hedges/bushes that look like lollipops and I obviously don't want that look, although I'm not sure how to AVOID it! LOL How do I get a hedged look that is formal, not dated? I've been searching the internet for pictures and all I can find is the very formal perfectly trimmed hedges. This would be way too much maintenance. Is there somewhere in between? Perhaps shearing the top ever so slightly and letting the bottom go natural?

Any help/opinions would be greatly appreciated!

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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Plant in drifts. Use more than one kind of shrub in one area. Don't use box only.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 1:53AM
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Yes, this is what my neigbors have done, and what they are advising. To me, it looks more informal though. Isn't it considered "formal" (rather than dated) to repeat the same plant (like boxwoods) as a framework and then add in other perennials? I see it done in formal gardens and it looks beautiful, not dated (although it certainly can when done wrong.) I'm asking--how do I go about doing it the "right" way?

This is where I am:

1.) I will use English dwarf boxwood because it will not get larger than 2 ft.
2.) I will use some taller holly plants behind the boxwood and shorter border plants in front to create a 3 tiered effect.
3.) I will space the boxwood about 2 feet apart when planting.

(Am I on the right track with these 3 things?)
Questions remain:
1.) Do I really need to leave 3 feet on either side of the walkway when planting them? That just seems like a really wide bed.
2.) What is the most modern way to trim them so they appear 'formal' not dated---but still give me a 'hedged' look---NOT little clumps of shrubs with mulch in between.

Thanks in advance for your opinions!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 8:02AM
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I am confused by your use of "dated" versus "formal"......I may be dense but I don't understand what you mean with the distinction between the two terms :-)

You can certainly establish an informal hedge of boxwood simply by not pruning or shearing the plants into a hedged shape. To have a continuous hedge, rather than individually spaced plants, space them 12-18" apart. And while it does grow VERY slowly, true dwarf English box will eventually get much larger than 2', so at some point pruning IS going to be required to maintain them at that height. Once the pruning process starts, you'll want to form them in to a slight 'A' shape - wider at the base and narrower at the top. This will ensure the bottom foliage receives sufficient sunlight and not die out.

3' is not a very wide bed. For a formally sheared dwarf boxwood hedge, you could reduce that down to 18-24 inches but if you are contemplating NOT pruning them, adding both a larger holly behind and a low perennial in front, 3' is a bare minimum width. I might increase it even more, depending on the specifics of the other plants you select.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 10:45AM
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I guess by "dated" I mean 'tacky' :) I just know nothing about landscaping and want to avoid any faux pas. Maybe I've been reading too much, but some designers seem to frown on the perfectly sheared lollypop like forms. I also want to put 2 taller cone shaped boxwoods on either side of the steps and I know just from reading the forums that that is also considered passe. :(

As far as the bed, I thought that I would need 3' on either side of the boxwood (which would mean a 7 or 8 foot bed...) I must have misread! How far away from the concrete path would you plant them though?

Lastly, I'm reconsidering the holly behind them (along the porch part... the walk would just be the boxwoods.) Is there a taller perennial that you can suggest that would be 3-4 feet (mabye even flowering) that would give a nice contrast either in color (lighter maybe?) or leaf texture? I'm starting to think that holly is too similar and won't give me any contrast against the boxwood.

Thank you again in advance.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 2:38PM
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dlmill(5 CO)

Roses look lovely behind boxwood in more formal gardens, and the boxwood hides the bare rose stems in the winter. Some of the shrub roses or more wild species are less maintenance.

The link below has a short little description about using boxwoods in formal gardens. It suggests things like rosemary.

I think boxwood is more classic than 'dated.' Particularly with a colonial home, I would think a formal style would be best. However, formal does tend to mean more maintenance. (Or so I've read! I'm a newbie too, but I've been reading a lot for my own landscaping projects.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Boxwood description

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 2:57PM
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If you get snow, which I think you do in Ohio, you need to consider where you're going to put it when the walk is cleared. I decided against planting along the path to the front door for this reason, and because it doubles the work of mowing the lawn (what's left of the lawn, that is).

You can get a semi-formal look with unsheared boxwood, which naturally grows in a dome shape and will knit together if planted closely enough. If that's dated, so be it!

Check out one or more of the new books about front yard gardens before you settle on your plan. My favorite is Gordon Hayward's 'The Welcoming Garden' but there are lots more - Claire Sawyer's 'Authentic Garden' might be useful, too.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 9:21PM
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Passe is a matter of opinion......and that's coming from a designer :-) If you have a colonial home and lean towards the more formal design approach, there is no good reason not pursue it. Designers have different ways of defining 'formal' but it usually involves symmetry and balance, often straight lines or very geometric shapes and patterns, a rather specific plant pallette and an attention to detail - i.e. shearing of hedges into neatly clipped forms. dlmill has the right idea - rather than 'passe', I'd encourage you to think of this as a more 'classic' approach to gardening. It's true this is a style that was much more popular in the past but both lifestyles and architecture have changed. However, it is still a design style that is appropriate to certain period architecture homes.

Shearing all shrubs and trees into unnatural rounded or squared-off forms is quite different (and a look I'd avoid), but a pair of cone-shaped topiaried shrubs as front entry focal points and a tidily clipped hedge can add a lot of character, curb appeal and formality to an architecturally appropriate home.

There does tend to be more maintenance with a formal garden design style (this is one very good reason why it has declined in popularity -- 90% of my clients demand low maintenance garden designs), so plan according to your desire to commit to it. Nothing looks worse than an unkempt formal garden!

And I think roses are a nice choice behind the hedge. They are a classic element in a formal design and offer a good, flowering contrast to the box.

Here is a link that might be useful: example of a formal entry garden

    Bookmark   July 29, 2009 at 11:50PM
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Thank you so much for all of your suggestions. I LOVE the roses idea---that is perfect. I researched the double knockout red roses and think I will use them in back of the boxwoods. I love complementary red/green together.

That link on formal gardens was so nice (I've been googling for pictures for days, and that one was the closest to what I'm picturing in my head---thank you!) I think I've got a plan in place now. My only concern is that I cannot find a true dwarf variety of boxwood here in Cleveland. Green velvet is what I think I will have to use (after searching for dwarf English--was told it doesn't do well in the winter, and can't find it here anyway) but I'm afraid the green velvet will be difficult to keep it on the smaller (2') size. My neighbor has it in her front yard and it has gotten really large (4') in 3 years.

Will the upkeep just be insanely crazy with 40 plus boxwoods? Or do they grow so slowly that if I just keep up with it, it wouldn't be so bad? I don't mind a little up keep---but I just want to be sure of what I'm getting myself into....

Lastly, can anyone suggest a low spreading perennial to put around the trees as filler? I have success with hostas, but in your opinion do you think they will go nicely with the roses/boxwood? Thanks again in advance--you have all been so helpful.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 8:10AM
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All boxwood grows pretty darn slowly so you should be able to keep on top of the size and shape with just an annual or semiannual trim. 'Green Velvet' is a good choice for northern gardens and holds its color well in winter but does grow larger than dwarf English box. I'd increase the spacing to 24-30 inches, depending on the size you begin with.

Hostas would certainly work provided the layout allows enough shade. Another choice if the situation is sunnier would be one of the lower growing hardy geraniums - lots to choose from and most have a long bloom period and flower colors that would compliment to the roses.

Here is a link that might be useful: hardy geraniums

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 12:01PM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

Joanne, If you checked gardengal's link for formal entry garden, there is a great example of incorporating hosta right there. That is a beautiful entry garden, gardengal! Makes me wish I had a more formal garden. Cynthia

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 6:54PM
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"Will the upkeep just be insanely crazy with 40 plus boxwoods?"

If you wish to keep it at a certain height and width - yes, there will be alot of work but normally only two times a year as gardengal said- I trim once in early Spring and then late summer (end of July) to make sure new growth hardens before winter. Electric shears rip and tear, so hand shears or pruning scissors in my opinion create a more natural appearance; in other words, you can snip new growth here and trim there and get a more "fluffy" look but still give it shape. That's the only way I can think to describe it. ha. Altho, I like the other look as well sometimes - esp the topiaries. Then you'll have the trimmings to clean up, to me that's the real job!

I use both Wintergem and Green Velvet. The Wintergem grows more quickly, esp after say the third or fourth year planted. If we have another winter like the last one, you may get die-off from frigid winds and deep snows laying on top of the hedge. So that's another thing to think about.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2009 at 11:51PM
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Thank you schoolhouse--- That makes perfect sense, and that is what I plan to do now. They are planted and I'm quite happy with them!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2009 at 4:57PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Dated???? I would also prefer 'classic'. Box edging needs clipping twice a year to keep it to step over height. If you want more plants the clippings will root easily. Don't think of 40 boxes. Think of 1 hedge. The formal hedge/edge is then the frame for your informal planting. It will still give your garden bones even when covered in snow.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 13, 2009 at 1:49PM
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Hi Joannemb,

I was wondering if you ended up planting the boxwood with knock out roses and if you were happy with how this looked. We are considering doing the same thing in our recently purchased and neglected home. Any tips or advice?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 10:42PM
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