Topiary: Thinking Outside The Box

It is widely accepted that Box and Yew are the ultimate plants for formal hedging and topiary, but are they really? Occasionally there are issues with using Box—to start with it can get Box blight, but it’s also rather expensive! Box blight can be treated and controlled, but this in itself can be expensive and time consuming. However, as luck would have it there are indeed lots of wonderful options to replace our beloved Box. Yew can sometimes be tricky to establish and also ends up being a bit pricey… thankfully there are plenty of options to replace Yew as well. As much as Box and Yew are familiar, traditional and ‘the safe option’ (apart from their little issues) sometimes it’s just fun to spice up the options….

Green Rocket

Euonymus Green Rocket

Knot Gardens and Parterres—Thinking Outside the Box:

Euonymus Green Rocket, from a distance could be mistaken for Box. It has small, glossy dark green leaves, it is compact and evergreen. It can also be kept neatly clipped. The leaves are arranged neatly around long stems and they are a little more ovate than Box, with a very slightly serrated edge to them, if anything making them a bit more interesting to look at!
Teuchrium x lucidrys is a lovely little plant is known as Hedging Germander and is a wonderful choice for something a little bit different. It is a fully hardy, evergreen shrub and only grows to around 45cm. It’s perfect for a neat little hedge and has a couple of lovely qualities that Box just can’t offer—not only does the foliage have a deliciously herby scent but throughout summer and early autumn it is covered in dainty pale pink flowers. Added bonus—no Box blight…
Lonicera nitida is a fast growing yet compact shrub, ideal for low formal hedging. It is very dense like Box and can be clipped quite low or allowed to grow up to around 2m.

Specimen Topiary—Breaking (hundreds of years of) Tradition:
There are so many evergreen shrubs that can be used a clipped focal point or a topiary feature… Lonicera (as mentioned above) is a great alternative to Box or Yew, if you prefer the dense habit and the tightly clipped form. However, if you are after big, handsome pieces, larger-leaved evergreens are also an option….

Prunus lusitanica can be so gorgeous when clipped into a cone or dome shape, or as a ’lollipop’ standard on a stem—it cannot be clipped as tightly and neatly as Box, but holds bold winter structure … It also happens make a beautiful alternative to a Yew hedge!
Sarcococca hookeriana humilis (low and slow growing) or Sarcococca confusa (taller) are a happy medium between large and small leaf sizes. It looks good clipped into a ball or dome, not to mention the exquisite fragrance produced by it’s tiny white flowers in the winter… funnily enough it’s common names are Christmas Box and Sweet Box.
Osmanthus x burkwoodii is actually pretty similar to Sarcococca but will grow slightly faster and larger, and bears highly scented white flowers in the spring. It also looks gorgeous clipped into a ball or a dome shape.
Ilex aquifolium is mainly suitable for humongous topiary pieces, like lovely big cones and tumps. However, they can also be purchased as neat little ’lollipop’ standards! Another gorgeous alternative to a giant Yew hedge…

Topiary: Thinking Outside The Box
Topiary: Thinking Outside The Box
Topiary: Thinking Outside The Box

From Left to Right: Prunus Lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel), Ilex Aquifolium (Holly), Myrtus Luma

After coming up with a few of these ideas, I was having a wander around Nicholsons Plant Centre for more inspiration and bumped into CJ, one of our very knowledgeable horticulturalists. She pointed me in the direction of Ligustrum jonandrum (a variety of Privet), a plant so similar to Box, the untrained eye wouldn’t even notice… and also, Myrtus luma (Myrtle), another great evergreen often used for topiary ‘lollipop’ standards. Let’s shake it up! Look out Yew and Box…

Ruby Simpson can’t remember a time when she hasn’t been interested in horticulture. After years of practical experience and training, she now works for Nicholsons as our CAD Manager and Planting Designer. Her passion for plants and interest in all genres of design translates through to stylish, plant-filled gardens to suit the individual needs and tastes of each client.

Topiary: Thinking Outside The Box