Una siepe di bosso nel contesto vegetale del giardino di Villa Crivelli Pusterla a Limbiate (Fotografia di Anna Zaffaroni)
A boxwood hedge among the vegetation of the garden of Villa Crivelli Pusterla in Limbiate (Photgraph by Anna Zaffaroni)

The Boxwood is an evergreen plant that belongs to the Buxaceae family used along with the Yew, as rigid borders for flowerbeds in Italian landscape gardens of country residences.
The main entrance of Villa Crivelli Pusterla in Limbiate introduces visitors to what remains of the formal garden, partly adapted to the needs of the former provincial psychiatric hospital. Today boxwood hedges pruned to look like a tree along with veteran trees like the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) surround a fountain which was recently restored. More boxwood trees can be found closer to the aristocratic building, in the entrance of what was once considered the noble court. Here are more flowerbeds with annual blooms edged with small boxwood hedges that create a striking contrast to the exotic palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) with fibrous trunks and leathery, fan-like leaves.

Its widespread use in country residences and formal gardens was determined by its flexibility and the possibility of carving them at the will of the master gardeners. Boxwood, in fact, is characterized by a very slow growth with glossy, dark green leaves which are constantly renewed. If you observe carefully, they appear oval-elliptical, uneven at the apex and characterized by a thick leathery surface which reaches its maximum width of half of its surface. On both sides of the leaf there are about 20 veins which are not very defined. It belongs to the monoecious species, as male and female flowers can be found in the same plant but in different locations. It flowers between April and May and the flowers are pale yellow, meagre and grow bunched up together with the female flowers at the top and the male flowers at the bottom. The fruits are three-lobed capsules and each lobe has two small hooks. When they mature, the capsules turn brown and free two black seeds. At one time, the plant was appreciated not only for its suitability in topiary art but also for its medicinal properties. It was used to lower fever in place of quinine because it contains an alkaloid substance called Bossina. Since this substance is toxic if taken in high doses and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, it has been banned from regular use except in homeopathy where it is administered as an anti-rheumatic drug and diaphoretic cure.
The Lombard nobility was familiar with the links this plant had with Greece’s classical culture which considered the boxwood as sacred to Hades who protected evergreen plants, symbols of life that continued in the “inferno” of winter. For this reason it symbolized eternity. In Scotland and England, they used branches of boxwood on Palm Sunday processions in place of the palm or olive branches which were not easily available.
The name of this plant is derived from the Latin word buxus, which in turn is derived from the Greek word pyxos, akin to pyknos, which means “dense, tight,” with a clear reference to its hard wood, pyx, which in the old days was a circular box where one stored jewellery. Since the Middle Ages the “pyx” has referred to the sacred vessel that serves to receive the Eucharist. Even the compass box that contains the magnetic needle has the same root word, and it is no coincidence that the name of this wood is in turn derived from the German noun, “Büchse,” from the Italian word, “bosso,” and the French word, “boite.”