US National Arboretum


A Garden Aristocrat

picture from boxwood collection

Few plants exude elegance like boxwood.  Its evergreen nature and refined, understated growth habit make it the perfect plant for framing anything–an herb garden, a perennial border, or a garden maze.  Gardeners recognized the value of boxwood early; the Egyptians began to grow it about 5,000 years ago.  It has long been valued for its extremely hard wood, its medicinal value, and for its permanence in the landscape.

The U.S. National Arboretum’s National Boxwood Collection is one of the most complete collections of boxwood in the world.  There are around 150 different species and cultivars planted in this verdant corner of the Arboretum.  Some have blue-green leaves, others have leaves variegated with splashes of cream or yellow.  Some are dwarf and mature at a height of less than two feet.  One variety, ‘Graham Blandy’,  grows upward in a narrow column like an exclamation point in the garden.

The National Boxwood Collection is enchanting in any season, but winter is a special time when the bold green foliage defies the bleakest days.  In spring, small flowers appear and scent the air with their sweet fragrance.  The diverse collection of boxwood serves as the framework for the Arboretum’s Perennial Collection, and every spring and summer it faithfully provides a green backdrop for the colorful blooms of the daffodils, peonies, and daylilies.

Many are surprised to learn that development of boxwood varieties for our gardens has been going strong well beyond the Colonial period they are most often associated with.  The National Boxwood Collection highlights some of the work in this area, in the last hundred years, including exploration trips undertaken in the Balkans that ultimately gave us the beautiful and hardy variety 'Vardar Valley'.  Much of the history of the collection is rooted in former Arboretum Director Henry Skinner's work with boxwood prior to serving as Director and a long association with boxwood nurseries in the region.

The design of the National Boxwood Collection is many faceted.  Undulating plantings of boxwood of various textures and forms on gentle slopes contrast with more formal symmetrical beds found in the central axis of the collection where the perennials are planted.   The National Boxwood Collection is not accessible to handicapped visitors, but most of the collection can be enjoyed from the loop road that winds through it.  The plantings are extensive, so if you plan to explore it in detail, budget plenty of time; you may want to spend at least a half hour.  Plan to spend even more time if you visit in April and May, when the peonies are blooming, or in the summer months when the daylilies are at peak bloom.  The Friendship Garden and the Azalea Collection are located nearby, with the Boxwood Collection neatly sandwiched between them.

Additional Resources:
Boxwood Handbook: A Practical Guide to Knowing and Growing Boxwood (3rd Edition) by Lynn R. Batdorf
Mr. Batdorf is the Curator of the National Boxwood Collection at the U.S. National Arboretum.
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Last Updated   April 4, 2006 2:47 PM
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