Box has been our ‘garden luvvie’ for many years, a familiar green-leaved shrub often wheeled out to impress the neighbours. To give that air of horticultural opulence. To containerise borders. To assure all year round display of colour. But, many years ago, Box as we know it, ran into a few problems…
Box blight is the first enemy of Box. Lush, green plants can become shadows of their former selves, as the Cylindrocladium fungus takes hold! It doesn’t kill the roots, but it sure as hell desecrates the top growth. Wet summers make it worse. Seek and destroy is often the best cure…
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the Box caterpillar arrived recently. Another challenge to our topiary toucans!
The Royal Horticultural Society garden in Wisley, Surrey have been trialling alternatives to Box over many years, and it’s quite a spectacular scene, I’m sure you’ll agree.
From Lonicera nitida (which grows quicker than cress in some instances) to Pittosporum (nice, but of course it doesn’t have the small, cute leaves of a box), there are a few other choices.
However, there is also Luxus.
Luxus ‘Globe’ is the box of the future. Tough, resistant, does what it says on the tin. And you can play with it the same way you would Box too! Ace. Get those topiary shears out!
How was this plant created?
Breeder, André van Nijnatten, had many years growing shrubs, and indeed has been a creator of new syringa (Lilac) too. He noticed the market for Box was still strong, but customers were consistently disappointed thanks to the pests and disease.
If it wasn’t one problem, it was another. Box also seemed high maintenance too, with many drought-stricken containers fading away in public areas…
Andre collected many different common varieties of Ilex. You may recognise Ilex as the latin name of holly. However, not all forms are prickly and difficult to work with. There’s actually a fantastic range of small-leaved, smooth varieties. Just right for topiary!
Like all good magicians, Andre mixed them all up and wanted to see what he got. He sowed the seed of a range of small-leaved Ilex. Believe me, sowing seed of shrubs is a long process. Germination takes 6 months, and often needs a cold period. Yes, that means nestling them by the yoghurts in your home refrigerator!
In the spring of 2006, he planted his range of 1000 seedlings into the ground at his nursery. Andre was then very strict, and selected plants for shape, foliage shade and hardiness. His final selection was an Ilex crenata form, which his notepad told him was hardy down to -24C. It was also a male form of Ilex, so wouldn’t produce berries. It seemed like the perfect Box doppelgänger!
What’s different about this plant?
Most importantly, this plant is NOT that different from Box, the plant it is replacing. Like all big changes, people find comfort in their similarities (not like when Bananarama replaced Siobhan with Jacqui. Although, to be fair, in the end, it worked!) So, this new Luxus looked like Box, grew like Box. Heck, the name even sounded the same. Lux = Luxury Box, of course!
Where can you plant Luxus ‘Globe’?
You can plant Luxus anywhere you would previously plant Buxus! Luxus ‘Globe’ can be grown in sun or part shade, and on most types of soil. It can be grown as a free-standing shrub, a patio specimen, or trained as hedging. At 60cm x 50cm, it’s more compact than traditional Box, but totally suitable for low, containing hedges around borders and veg plots. I think the plants would also look good as punctuation in patio containers and window boxes, clipping them as you wish!
Where can you buy this plant?
Plants will soon be available in garden centres across Europe, and by mail order right now from Thompson & Morgan
How to grow Luxus ‘Green Globe’:
Flowering time: no flowers
Location: Borders, patio pots, low hedging
Soil: Any well-drained soil
Light: Sun or Part shade
Hardy: Survives down to -24C!
Care: Prune lightly as required, to keep shape
Size: 60cm (24″) high x 50cm (20″) in spread
Plant of the Month is sponsored by Plantipp, a company based in The Netherlands who handle the introduction of new plants into Europe (with Concept Plants doing the same job in North America).
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook.