Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Midget box

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I have hundreds of yards of hedges that are—or will be—ten feet tall.  But I'm particularly proud of the fifty feet of hedge that's only seven inches high even after a decade of trying.  This boxwood wasn't named 'Morris Midget' for nothing.  The hedge is planted halfway up a six-inch slope, so appears taller.  I'd have had to wait another decade for the plants to be over a foot tall all on their own.

 

'Morris Midget' is a cultivar of Japanese box, Buxus microphylla, not "true" or "English" box, Buxus sempervirens.  

 

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The cold-weather foliage gives away the microphylla heritage: the green color of the outer leaves has become bronzed or even browned.

 

The inner foliage retains the lively green color that will return to the bronzed leaves in Spring. 

 

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The hedges that are in full view all Winter long are of English box, American holly, or yew; their foliage holds a decent green color year-round.  The 'Morris Midget' hedge encircles a small knot garden that's entirely hidden behind the hedge of English box.  The garden was too small for a hedge of dwarf English box, which would have become a smothering giant of two or even three feet tall.  No one visits this corner of the garden all Winter, so if midget also means bronze, only we are the wiser.

 

Here's how to grow this tiny shrub:


Latin Name

Buxus microphylla 'Morris Midget'

Common Name

Morris Midget boxwood

Family

Buxaceae, the Boxwood family. 

What kind of plant is it?

Dwarf broadleaf evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9.

Habit

Mounding, rigid, dense, full to the ground, wider than tall—and never very tall, either.

Rate of Growth

Very slow. 

Size in ten years

I planted a circular hedge of 'Morris Midget' in 2001.  As I write, they are seven inches tall and fifteen inches wide.  It will take many years for them to reach even one foot tall.  I've read of a plant that was 45 years old but had only managed to grow two feet tall and four feet wide. 

Texture

Fine-grained.

Grown for

its habit: This is the box to plant when when you're gardening in miniature, and don't want to worry about pruning for years.

 

its imperviousness to deer, who avoid all boxwood.  The shrubs have a characteristic odor, faint but accurate, of feline urine, which deer interpret as the sign of a carnivore.  Lucky us! 

Flowering season

Spring; box flowers are small and white, and are not showy.  Bees are very glad of them regardless.

Color combinations

'Morris Midget' goes with everything.

Partner Plants


'Morris Midget' is so tiny that there are few plants that are even dwarfer to partner with it as foregrounders.  True, the leafy growth of ajuga is prostrate, but most cultivars spread by runners, and would be likely to send shoots up through the 'Morris Midget'.   Ajuga 'Metallica Crispa Purpurea' is a possibility, because it has short runners, spreads slowly, and is so resolutely hunkered to the ground.  Its texture and color would be a dramatic contrast, too.

 

"Larger" partners might still be less than a foot tall.  Even so, be careful to keep enough clearance between them and 'Morris Midget' to prevent its becoming shaded out.  My 'Morris Midget' circle has an inner and concentric circle of adult ivy, and I take care that it doesn't grow over the box.  Smaller ornamental grasses could provide good contrast in form, texture, and, if variegated, color.        

Where to use it in your garden

As a solo amid other dwarf plants, as in a rock garden.  Or, as I've done, as one of several strands of dwarf hedging in a knot garden. 

Culture

Full sun, and almost any soil with good drainage.  Box is flexible about pH, thriving in soils that are moderately acid, neutral, or fairly sweet. 

How to handle it:  The Basics

Box is unusually easy to establish.  Colder than Zone 7, plant in Spring only.  Be sure to provide enough water to establish the shrub the first season; after that box is drought tolerant.  Growth is lusher with adequate moisture. 

 

In Zone 6, new plants welcome Winter protection for a year or two.  Spray with antidessicant in late Fall; you might even cover with wind-baffle fabric by January.  By their third WInter, starter plants will be fully hardy. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?


'Morris Midget' makes a peerless miniature hedge.  Because the aesthetic strength of a hedge is as much in the geometry itself as the consituent plants, start with the smallest plants available.  Given the quantity needed—one plant every six inches, or, if you're feeling flush, two rows of them, with one row four inches from the other, and with the line of plants in one staggered to the line of the other—this would be an enormous savings over larger sizes.  Closer planting with smaller plants is a much better strategy than wider spacing with larger plants, anyway, in that the hedge is that much more thoroughly "rooted" to the ground, visually and literally. 

Quirks or special cases

Box is legendarily responsive to pruning, and will resprout promptly even from stumps.  'Morris Midget' isn't likely to need substantial pruning until it's twelve or fifteen years old—and even then, only to control lateral spread, not height. 

 

Do any substantial pruning in the Spring, so the shrub can produce new foliage that same season to hide the bare inner reaches of branches that the pruning might reveal.  If you do such pruning in the Fall, you'll be looking at those bare parts all Winter long.  Pruning that is only within the shrub's outer foliage can be done in Spring or Fall as long as the Fall pruning is delayed until the weather is reliably cool or even a bit cold.  New foliage won't be produced until the following Spring, and so avoids any danger of being Winter-killed.  Plus, the shrub holds its just-pruned sharpness all Winter long.

Downsides

The foliage of Buxus microphylla doesn't retain its green color in cold weather as well as that of Buxus sempervirens.  Hybrids of the two species bronze less; see "Variants" below.

 

Box is susceptible to a variety of insect pests, but plants that are sited well are more resistant.  Check with your state's USDA Cooperative Extension Service to see if there are challenges for box where you're gardening.  Buxus microphylla is generally less troubled by pests than B. sempervirens; see "Variants" below.  

Variants

Ah, the diverse world of box.  Although there are just two main species—Buxus microphylla and B. sempervirens—there are hundreds of cultivars, with habits from "micro-mini," such as 'Morris Midget', to many gradation of merely dwarf, to broad and upright (again, at many gradations), to upright or even narrow.  With the exception of 'Rotundifolia', whose leaves are notably longer as well as wider than usual, foliage is always about the same length, but can vary from narrow and pointed to nearly round.  Some cultivars have leaves edged in cream; some others have new foliage that's yellow. 

 

In addition to 'Morris Midget', my favorites include 'Tide Hill', with tiny leaves, a very short height (below two feet), and an unusually broad spread (to five feet or more); 'Vardar Valley', broad but usually not higher than two or three feet; 'Elegantissima', with cream-edged leaves; 'Wanford Page', with yellow new growth; and 'Graham Blandy', extremely tall and narrow.  All of these are cultivars of just one or the other of the two box species, B. microphylla or B. sempervirens.

 

There are also cross-species hybrids—the Sheridan hybrids, developed at Sheridan Nursery, in Ontario—that combine the greater hardiness of B. microphylla with the greener Winter foliage of B. sempervirens.  They are all dense and mid-height mounders, and thrive in cold as well as hot climates.  From the names of the cultivars to date—'Green Mountain', 'Green Mound', 'Green Gem', 'Green Ice', and 'Green Velvet', and 'Chicagoland Green'—you can tell how notable their improved Winter color is.

Availability

On-line and, occasionally, at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings.

Native habitat

Buxus microphylla is of Japanese origin, but isn't known in the wild there.  In other words, the shrubs that were introduced to the United States were from Japan, but who knows when or how they had gotten to Japan.  'Morris Midget' originated at the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia, PA.

 
 
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