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Saving our Baroque Box Hedging at Hampton Court Palace

Date: 15 February 2024

Author: Amy Borthwick

Box hedging, or to be precise Buxus sempervirens, is the mainstay of the Baroque Parterre and our world-renowned Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace is no exception. Over a mile of Box hedging stretches around the garden, creating the planting beds and geometric patterns.

But an impressive garden takes an equally impressive team of people to maintain it, and our palace gardeners work year-round to make sure it looks its best. Here, Senior Gardener Amy Borthwick explains a new 'Box Battle' going on deep within the Privy Garden, and the plans to save it.

A formal garden with box hedging on the borders

Our Privy Garden was recreated in 1995 and it is a replica of what would have been here in 1702 during William and Mary's reign. This original Privy lasted less than 10 years before Queen Anne and then later monarchs gradually altered the layout and removed elements of the garden. So this current garden has, ironically, outlived the original.

The Privy Garden is all about controlling nature as was the fashion and approach to all garden design of that period. Every plant is placed and pruned to be just right and it's that control that gives the impressive geometric view from the King's apartments.

Image: The Privy Garden has been restored to the baroque style of 1702. © Historic Royal Palaces

But recently we have had more battles to fight than in previous decades. Our Box plants, of which there are over 20,000 in the Privy Garden alone, are under attack from all directions. Fungal blight, Box moth caterpillar and most recently prolonged and inclement weather patterns are making life difficult for Box hedging, which in turn increases the level of maintenance and intervention required. The problem is so bad that in some European Gardens Box hedging has been abandoned completely and alternative plants introduced.

In the Privy, we are being careful not to abandon it just yet. Few plants have the same tight, compact habit and dark foliage that can be clipped to suit the formality of a parterre. With the help of horticultural experts from far and wide we've certainly tried to find one!

Image: Trial 1, Babylon Beauty. © Historic Royal Palaces

Hedging seen in a formal garden
Hedging seen in a formal garden

So, our plan going forward is two-pronged:

  1. We will trial in selected areas different plants including Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’ as well as alternative Buxus varieties. 'Babylon Beauty' and 'Renaissance' are being used in Het loo with some success (William III's other royal palace). We have planted 200 of each and will monitor their vigour and suitability over the next 12 months.
  2. We are also giving our existing Buxus a bit of life support – and it is helping. We’ve reduced clipping and mulching to improve airflow and reduce the humidity loved by Blight and been more diligent with tool-cleaning to minimise the spread of fungal spores. We are digging more drainage to cope with the Winter floods, applying nitrogen-rich feed to promote stronger plants, and trialling new organic products to reduce the Box Moth damage. We’re also growing replacement plants from cutting in our nursery.

Image: Trial 2, Buxus 'Renaissance'. © Historic Royal Palaces

The Box Battle isn't over just yet. We will continue to control nature just as William III intended, ensuring the Privy Garden retains its spectacular formal appearance and provides the perfect historical connection between the palace and garden, which our visitors appreciate.

Amy Borthwick
Senior Gardener, Hampton Court Palace

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