|Arthur A. Shurcliff as a young man|
|19th-century botanical illustration |
of Buxus sempervirens
It’s clear that Shurcliff felt that there was something special about boxwood, perhaps because it was one of the few plants that could potentially have survived since the time when these antique gardens were new. A few years after his trip to Newburyport, Shurcliff published an article in House & Garden about two Nantucket gardens that dated from the early 19th century. He also believed that there was “evidence to support the tradition that they were copied from much older gardens then in their prime”—but what this evidence might be, Shurcliff did not say. Nonetheless, here, too, boxwood played an important role. Boxwood hedges marked the main outlines of the garden's plan, and boxwood was used for decorative effects, being planted and trimmed into “ribbons, strings, and knobs.”
|Foliage of Buxus sempervirens, or American boxwood|
Although there was very little hard evidence for the presence of boxwood in Williamsburg’s gardens in the 18th century, Shurcliff felt that his studies of other southern gardens justified their presence. In his first report to Restoration architects Perry, Shaw & Hepburn, he argued, “in replanting the Williamsburg places much use should be made of Box even to the extent of allowing it to dominate the parterres and bed traceries of which it once formed only a part.” Along with Shurcliff’s romantic love of boxwood was a practical reason—“Generous use of box in this manner is also justifiable because the display and upkeep of flowers especially in the dry season would not be necessary.”
|St. George Tucker House before restoration|
|Boxwood in the restored Tucker House garden|
Others were much more easily won over by Shurcliff’s garden designs. As soon as Colonial Williamsburg officially opened in 1934, his Colonial Revival style gardens—and boxwood—began appearing all over the United States. However, there is still some debate as to whether boxwood can successfully be grown in this part of the country. If anyone has experience with it, we would love to hear from you!
M. Kent Brinkley and Gordon W. Chappell, The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1996).
Elizabeth Hope Cushing, Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).
Charles B. Hosmer, Jr., “The Colonial Revival in the Public Eye: Williamsburg and Early Garden Restoration,” in Alan Axelrod, ed., The Colonial Revival in America (Winterthur: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1985), 52-70.
American Boxwood Society
F. S. Lincoln, “St. George Tucker House Kitchen,” John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed April 29, 2015, https://rocklib.omeka.net/items/show/566.
“St. George Tucker House Before Restoration,” John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed April 29, 2015, https://rocklib.omeka.net/items/show/564.