Photo: Steve Bender

Did you know that the common boxwood is the world's oldest cultivated ornamental plant? That's right. The Egyptians were adorning their gardens with it as far back as 4,000 BC. And ever since then, people have been trying to decide whether they should pamper their boxwood or feed it to the camels.

You can understand why the Egyptians would feel this way. Not only did thousands of slaves have to toil for decades to haul 2.3 million blocks of stone to build a Great Pyramid 481 feet tall and 756 feet long on each side, but after they were finished, Pharoah Khufu demanded that the base be lined with more than 3,000 boxwoods.

emThe Great Pyramid -- magnificent, yes, but even more so if lined with boxwoods. Photo: Wikipedia/em

Boxwoods are very hard to grow in the desert, which is why none survive today.

Even so, the Egyptians taught us some valuable lessons. Boxwoods can be supremely useful plants. They're evergreen, boast attractive foliage, grow rather slowly, and can be trimmed into hedges or allowed to assume their natural, rounded, billowing form. Because of this, they're excellent in foundation plantings, as edging in formal parterre gardens, and as evergreen anchors for a flower border. And if someone had been a little more attentive to watering during the last 5,000 years, you'd see that reflected in the photo above.

Of course, some of you Debbie Downers out there will insist on reminding us that the foliage of dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa') smells like cat pee. (Exciting note -- the term "cat pee" has never before appeared in any medium associated with Southern Living. You are witness to history!) This is indeed fitting, for as we all know, Egyptians worshiped cats.

Pot Up Your Boxwoods

emPotted boxwoods in Suzanne Hudson's Georgia garden. Photo: Steve Bender/em

Suzanne Hudson in Douglasville, Georgia loves boxwoods. She has hundreds in her garden and grows many of them in pots. This is a great use, because when you pot up small boxwood, it immediately looks to have doubled its size. And like I said, it grows slowly, so you won't have to prune very much to keep it tidy. Suzanne also reports that boxwoods are surprisingly drought-tolerant. Just water each pot until water runs from the drainage hole a couple of times a week. The larger the pot, the less often you'll have to water.

Why People Hate Boxwoods Folks who loathe boxwoods do so for two main reasons. First, boxwoods are found in more gardens today than dirt. People are sick of them. Second, boxwoods will suddenly die on you, if you do something wrong -- like wear white after Labor Day.

Either of these pans will work for this pound cake. Don't use anything darker on the inside.

Actually, the main reason boxwoods die is being planted in poorly drained, heavy clay soil -- the kind of soil that just about everybody has. This makes them subject to a host of soil-borne diseases. That used to be a boxwood in Grumpy's garden (above). For more info on boxwood maladies and how to prevent them, read "What's Killing My Boxwood?"

So what are you? A lover or a hater?