If the garden is a stage, box is the understudy. For most of the year, all but un-noticed, it does its job quietly and uncomplainingly, taking a back seat, never seeking attention, supporting the star cast and for all I know making them regular cups of tea.
But in winter, it’s different. In winter, box steps shyly out into centre stage. All around her are tiring, fading, looking definitely jaded. A coat of frost turns them to brown and unlovely mush. But not box.
A crisply clipped box hedge frosted with silver is one of the most beautiful sights of the winter garden. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that no garden is entirely complete without one. They look fantastic in modern gardens and elegant in traditional ones. They can be whimsical, magical, artistic or geometric; box balls may be verging dangerously close to the clichéd these days, but what of box cubes, box columns, box spirals or box pyramids?
And it’s so well-behaved. It doesn’t grow too quickly – or too slowly. It doesn’t have any fussy requirements about soil, and it’s obligingly happiest in shade. It isn’t damaged by frost, or hail, or snow, and doesn’t demand primping or preening or much attention at all beyond a haircut a couple of times a year.
My little box hedge in the front garden is still in its fluffy and slightly wayward infancy: it hasn’t quite knitted together yet and still carries more than a whiff of its wild cousins growing near us on Box Hill. But even so when I look down on the half-circles it draws so effortlessly and cleanly in the gravel of my drive, I marvel that this is the one thing in my garden I’m properly pleased with. All year round – whether you’re looking at it or not. And that, if you ask me, is true star quality.