The American Boxwood Society

The American Boxwood Society

In the late 1950s and early 1960s many gardens in Northern Virginia which contained large, billowing old plants of Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, were losing these beautiful specimens and hedges to an unidentified problem.

Portions of the plants would slowly turn straw-coloured and then die, soon followed by the total loss of colour and life of the entire plant. Concern about this decline of old and long-established plants brought together a group of amateur and professional boxwood hedge enthusiasts who contacted friends and colleagues to attend an organizing meeting in May 1961, out of which grew The American Boxwood Society. One hundred charter members became the active nucleus of the new association. The headquarters were established at the University of Virginia’s Orland E. White Arboretum, located at Blandy Farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Arboretum has since become the State Arboretum of Virginia. A Constitution for the Society was adopted in 1962 and non-profit status with tax exemption was enacted in 1968.

In America, for some strange reason, American Boxwood‚ and English Boxwood‚ have become the commonly-used names for Buxus sempervirens and Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, respectively, by both gardeners and nurserymen. The progressive dying off of old plants seemed to affect ONLY Suffruticosa, and therefore the problem or disease became known as English Boxwood Decline. It was the urgent need to identify the cause of this widespread disaster that gave the new Boxwood Society its impetus. The Society’s mission was defined as education in the fields of boxwood history, care and culture. One of the early projects was the financial support of graduate study at Virginia Tech into the causes and possible cures for the English Boxwood Decline. As part of its educational mission, in 1961 the Society began to publish a quarterly journal, The Boxwood Bulletin. An Advisory Board was appointed with many distinguished botanists and scientists, men and women who contributed greatly to the breadth and interest of information to be shared with Society members. An Editor was named for The Bulletin and it continues to provide scientific and cultural information for boxwood growers. In later years the ABS was chosen to be the International Registration Authority for Buxus by the International Society for Horticultural Sciences. Publications printed by the Society also include four editions of the Boxwood Buyer’s Guide, listing nurseries that grow or market boxes. The first authoritative book covering all phases of boxwood information, history, care, pests and diseases, The Boxwood Handbook, appeared in 1995, followed by a revised edition in 1998. A Manual of Boxwood is now in preparation. All of these publications are the result of the dedicated efforts of Mr Lynn R. Batdorf, Curator of Buxus at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Another excellent publication that has helped boxwood growers worldwide is the book, Boxwood Its History, Cultivation. Propagation and Descriptions by P.D. Larson which was printed in 1996. Beginning in 1977, the Society undertook two new types of activities, the organizing of boxwood workshops in different areas of Virginia and planning boxwood tours. These programmes proved extremely popular and have been effective ways to spread knowledge about boxwood care and offer attractive locations where boxwood can be seen. The formation of two other groups devoted to the study of boxwood has demonstrated the continuing and lasting interest in this outstanding plant: The Boxwood Society of the Midwest, formed in St.Louis, Missouri, in 1977 and your own European Boxwood and Topiary Society, with its very broad representation, both geographically and horticulturally. After the passage of the many centuries when boxwood has flourished and has been admired, it is reassuring to realize that its fascination continues to draw new gardeners and to add its distinctive presence to their surroundings.

Our Society has a very active research committee, chaired by Dr Henry Frierson, with major funding generated by a plant auction held at the annual meeting. Donated plant material netted the Society more than $3,500 at the auction held last month in Richmond, Virginia. The garden tours held on the final day of the conference still rank as one of the highlights for all attendees. Undoubtedly, the society’s success has been due to the unselfish work of individuals such as Decca Frackelton and Joan Butler, both of whom were recognized at our recent annual meeting.

This article is an extract from a lecture given at the 1999 British AGM by Tom Saunders, President of the American Boxwood Society.
In America, for some strange reason, American Boxwood‚
and English Boxwood‚ have become the commonly-used names for Buxus sempervirens and Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, respectively.

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