Sunday, February 18, 2007

Boxwoods. A nonpolitical post


My boxwoods and I make a dysfunctional family. I inherited some of the box with the house; malnourished and huddled in the deep shade around the foundation they reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Matchgirl". I wanted to, I needed to save them. Besides, the house leans west and its foundation sorely needed covering with something evergreen, and I had neither the money nor the horticultural skills to attempt other solutions.

After the first year, I grew worried about the growth rate of my little boxes. My calculations indicated that 240 years would pass before the foundation would be covered. So I bought some more boxwoods. (If you need to ask why you have no understanding of codependency.) The improvement was, of course, unnoticeable. But in the meantime I had begun my adventures in gardening literature, and fallen in love with the idea of boxwoods: their elegant formality, cheerful greenness and so on.

The books I pored over never showed box used in my manner (lined up like little pustules along a wildly slanting stone foundation), so eventually I replaced them as foundation plantings, and used them instead to frame a new brick path to the front door. (A few more plants had to be purchased for this.) The effect is startling; like two rows of little big-headed children waiting in line to be admitted through the door.

But I can't part with them. Perhaps one day I'll need thirty or so boxwoods for some project, and won't be able to find them. And nothing else I grow stays so green in the winter. And growing box makes me feel like a real (British?) gardener.

Every spring my boxwoods host beautiful chartreuse-colored new leaves and the box psyllid; the latter a small insect which turns the leaves into little yellow spoons. As I refuse to use strong insecticides, and as the psyllids seem not to mind soap-and-oil baths, my boxwoods have yellow spoons for leaves until late summer when they usually manage to grow a small harvest of green ones.

My box, buxus sempervirens, is of marginal cold hardiness in our area, and part of me hopes that a severe winter takes care of my boxwood problems. The alternative is to go on with the status quo; however uncomfortable our current relationship, my boxwoods and I have a shared history, an emotional (and financial) investment, which we cannot simply throw away. Can we? And what would my neighbors think if I now acknowledged defeat, after so long promoting the wider front yard use of box to them?

If this sounds familiar to you, and you grow no similar plant, perhaps I might interest you in one of the twelve-step programs for codependents.