question on old garden plants

altoraMA(5/6 MA)March 15, 2004

I was looking at a book about early american homes the other night. Alot of these houses were landscaped with little bushes- 1'x1', round, lined up around the house. they were spaced about a foot apart. some people had it growing around paths and some people had it in front of the house like foundation plantings. they look really odd! does anyone know what they were?

thanks!

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ZephirineD(z8b OR)

Sounds like boxwood...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 3:47AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Ah, yes! Buxus Meatballus commonly known as the "meatball bush". Native habitat appears to be suburban yards...culture is varied--it's not fussy about anything except wet feet. Does require pruning to maintain classic "meat ball" shape.

melanie

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 8:53AM
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spectre(SZ 24, US 10b)

That's a confirmatory and a big 10-4 on the Buxus.

spectre

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 1:24PM
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phdnc(z6NW-No.Car.)

Buxus meatballus? Would that be the variety 'Victorian Splendor' or 'Suburban Banality' you're refering to Mel?
: P lol

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 1:52PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I BELIEVE it is variety Suburban Banality--though without a picture I can't be certain. SB can be VERY difficult to discern from Victorian Splendor--more of a LOCATION and CULTURE issue than an actual varietal differentitation...

melanie

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 2:21PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Here is a nice little, short article on the use (and overuse)of boxwood in Colonial-style landscaping. And it isn't even a true "Colonial" plant, apparently.

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/mc/services/dep/greenman/colonial.pdf

I think the meatball and cube shrubs are typically trimmed- up yews.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2004 at 8:51PM
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kategardens

Ginger, I enjoyed the discussion of boxwood in that article--thanks for posting the link. What I took to be the overall thrust of the article though--namely, that folks with suburban Colonial revival homes of any era should consider pursuing 'authentic' colonial gardens--seemed pretty wacky to me. I'm having a hard time picturing wattle-enclosed vegetable gardens in the most of the yards of suburban Montgomery County that I've seen.

In the world of architectural preservation, many colonial revival structures are now appreciated in their own right, and 'colonial revival' is viewed as its own distinct style. Per this line of thinking, the most appropriate garden for a colonial revival house would be a colonial revival -- rather than a colonial -- garden. I.e., the type of garden that folks at the turn of this century thought or deigned to be 'colonial," whether or not such description was accurate. Under this reasoning, boxwood becomes the perfect plant for a colonial revival house.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2004 at 12:00AM
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ginny12

Haven't had time to read the article yet but I must add that boxwood was indeed a very popular plant in the colonial era. Of course, here in New England they struggled with it because of the climate but they were determined to grow it. And of course it was used widely farther south. It is an authentic plant, like it or not!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2004 at 7:53AM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

The article lists boxwood as a colonial-era plant; it was referring to its extensive use as a foundation or a lining-both-sides-of-the-sidewalk planting as a later usage and, hence, inaccurate for Colonial homes in that sense.

I think the original poster wanted only to ID a plant. I included the link to help with the ID. It's not a piece of scholarly writing, just practical advice and information for the homeowner containing a bit of information on the history of the use of buxus in America.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2004 at 2:07PM
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FranVAz7(Alexandria VA)

However, Gunston Hall, a colonial-era house museum, has a long allee of boxwoods that line either side of a straight walk out from the back door or the house, which date back to the 18th C. Of course, they are now ten times huger than they were 200+ years ago--the walkway that used to be 12 feet across is now about 3 feet across. No one has the nerve to tell the old-money, old South garden ladies who fund the gardens that they must cut them back to their original size if they want to be historic! Anyway, the colonial revival cliche did come from real practice when it comes to some (not all) use of boxwood. It just got overblown a bit!

    Bookmark   March 19, 2004 at 5:35PM
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PucPuggyII(z8 VA)

Actually the ladies at Gunston Hall have heard the suggestion to cut back their boxwood - I was part of a group consultation addressing this and other landscape issues for them several years ago. However, the answer is not that simple. Those boxwoods were most likely planted at the time of Mason but have clearly outgrown their design (supported by dendrochronolgy). To get them back to the right size would require such severe pruning that the look of the design could not be achieved with the existing plants (the trunks are way too large) and such pruning would most likely endanger the lives of the boxwood. To get the look of the original design, the original boxwood would need to be replaced.

So the staff and "ladies" are faced with a dilemma - preserve the historic plant or restore the historic design. Which historic aspect is more important? The board witnessed a very vigorous debate arguing the merits of both sides, but even our small group could not come to a consensus.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2004 at 10:16PM
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ZephirineD(z8b OR)

There's a boxwood garden at our Cathedral. I'm pretty sure that it's "authentic", meaning it dates back to when the garden was first put in... perhaps in the first or second decade of last century?

It "feels" old... There's something very odd about seeing boxwood laid in a flower bed in patterns. It's all around the edge of the bed, too; but also inside the bed, dividing it into areas, and... is it possible, do you think, that it was originally trimmed in the shape of letters that could be seen from the windows above the courtyard? Really, it looks like it might have been... but since no one has sheared it in a very long time, the exact shape of each letter is hard to guess...

I should really see if I can look at it from a window above. That might help clear up the mystery...

And of course, it would help if I spoke Latin, because the letters may very well be an abbreviation of a Latin phrase that would have been well known to the faithful in 1910...

Has anyone here heard of this type of boxwood display?

Love,

Claudia

    Bookmark   March 20, 2004 at 4:12AM
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ginny12

Claudia--That is a common practice that dates back to at least the time of the ancient Romans. They laid out the names of the villa owners in boxwood, or other mottoes. The practice continued thru recorded garden history and certainly came to this country.

As one example, there is an extraordinary garden in LaGrange, Georgia, which I visited with the Southern Garden History Society last spring, in which the garden owner/designer, a woman, laid out Biblical mottoes in box in the 19th century. I think "God is Love" is one of them. You really have to look at them from above to discern them. This garden was begun in the 1830s and was in magazines of the early 20th century. It is also in numerous books about important American gardens. It is called Hills and Dales. It is supposed to be open to the public later this yr, I think.

Note that when the original owners sold the property to the Callaway family, the latter tore down the relatively modest house and built a mansion. My personal opinion is that there is a disconnect between the lovely old, deeply personal gardens and the almost aggressively monumental mansion. But at least they preserved and maintained the gardens.

The use of box for symbols and mottoes was widespread. Gee whiz, you can even see gas station names in Japanese yew not far from where I live! I think you are very discerning to notice this at your cathedral. I see a research opportunity for you.... How about checking local newspaper microfilm at the library for info about the dedication of the cathedral? Or does the cathedral have any archives? And I have had great luck with elderly citizens--a goldmine of info. Let us know.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2004 at 7:53AM
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ginny12

Claudia--just curious--is the cathdral Episcopal or RC--or something else? The garden sounds Episcopal--like the one at the National Cathedral in DC--so I would be interested in knowing if it is something else. You mentioned Latin so I wondered it it is RC.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2004 at 9:22AM
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FranVAz7(Alexandria VA)

PucPuggy, how convenient for the GCofVA to have another excuse to do nothing! Their relationships with the properties they "restored" consists of making sure that their restorations remain no matter what. For an example of what a travesty of history that can lead to, just pay a visit to Woodlawn Plantation. By the way, a former horticultural director at Gunston is responsible for the abysmal restoration of the Japanese-style Garden at Hillwood, which I have to attempt to fix. He, of course, is not being held accountable for any of it.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2004 at 11:23AM
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ZephirineD(z8b OR)

I'm Roman Catholic (converted to the faith three years ago), so yes, it's the local RC Cathedral -- which is why, I'm thinking, the box may have an abbreviation for a Christian motto or creed in Latin. The Cathedral here in Portland is large, and I believe that the priests still live on the site -- certainly they did at the time the Cathedral was built. Their windows would have looked down on the courtyard garden so that they could contemplate the statue of Our Lady and the serenity of the gardens... including, perhaps, a boxwood hedge that contained symbols of religious significance.

I've asked the pastoral priest -- the one who's been there the longest -- if he knows what letters may have been hidden in the boxwood. However, he didn't seem to be aware that there were any symbols hidden in the box.

The Cathedral was built around 1880, I think... I'll have to research it further.

The box may have been poorly trimmed in the meantime, and rearranged so that the symbols are no longer there. I'll see what I can find out, anyway.

Love,

Claudia

    Bookmark   March 22, 2004 at 1:06AM
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inkognito

Claudia: you might want to check http://www.kensmen.com/catholic/symbols.html could be some clues there.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2004 at 3:53PM
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inkognito

Is four days a long time, or am I being impatient. Tell us Claudia, how is it going?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2004 at 5:45PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Four days is a long time--AND you are being impatient! (The two are not mutually exclusive!)
;~)

melanie

    Bookmark   March 27, 2004 at 7:11AM
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