William Marshall’s encomium takes us to the heartwood: ‘we know of no shrub or tree whatever, the Oak, the Ash, the Elm, and the Beech excepted, so deserving of the planter’s notice as the Box.
It will flourish upon barren soils and in bleak situations. … it thrives in every soil and in the closest situations, being remarkably patient of the shade and drip of other trees: we have seen it in a neglected grove, growing under a perfect canopy of foliage with the same healthfulness and luxuriancy as if it had stood in the open air. This naturally points out a situation and use proper for the Box, which does not seem to have been thought of: we mean that of UNDERWOOD TO THE OAK. Thus employed, what an admirable cover to game; and how friendly to the sportsman!…’
When you add that rabbits don’t like it, I felt quite comfortable as I put it to the Captain and Bar, who had joined Mr Honey at our table, that there may be good plants and bad plants, but that Buxus sempervirens is definitely among the good. My companions were less sure however – the Captain responded, with a twitch of his trouser crease, that it might make a fine fiddle but was a martyr to blight, while the Bar reminded us that great men had condemned it – the poet Pope for its encouragement to topiary, and Evelyn for its reputed effect of sterilising the ground and also for its smell (which is brisk, but urinous). Mr Honey had snapped up the last of the zinger-zinger crisps as we spoke and so refrained from judgement, his mouth being full.
In conclusion am glad to say that I have found box occasionally at the edge of beds and shrubberies that are attributed to the gardener Capability Brown (at Wotton and Scampston for example) and I do believe that Brown used it in the front row of his his tiered shrubberies – there were also known as ‘theatrical’ because the plants were arranged in rows by height. However there can be no doubt that Box went out of favour during his lifetime – perhaps it became commonplace through over-much use.