‘Elegantissima’ variegated boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’)
USDA Hardiness Zones: 6 to 8
Size: Up to 4 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; fertile, well-drained soil
This stalwart variegated boxwood makes a shimmering star in the shady corners of any southern garden, where a spot of bright variegation is appreciated in the deep sea of glossy, dark green that is our usual summer fare. I have grown ‘Elegantissima’ for many years as a trained clipped box in a parterre, or have left it to grow naturally and unrefined in banks under big elms. Either way, it’s cheerful and undemanding.
White Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum ‘Alba’)
Zones: 5 to 9
Size: 10 to 18 inches tall, spreading up to 6 feet
Conditions: Full sun to light shade; well-drained soil
One of my favorite go-to plants is the lovely white Japanese roof iris. With its clumping masses of arching, glossy green blades and its cheerful clusters of flowers, this iris makes a designer’s job easy. I like to use it in masses under trees, hugging slopes, or snuggling up to boulders. Its bold foliage texture and practically evergreen nature makes this a year-round plant, which shoulders itself perfectly against the boxwood. In the South, expect flowers anytime in late spring, just after the dogwoods bloom.
‘Evergold’ sedge (Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’)
Zones: 6 to 9
Size: Up to 1 foot tall and 20 inches wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil
I know that somewhere in the world, this sedge must grow beautifully in full sun and take on the goldness of its name. But not here. In the South, ‘Evergold’ sedge wants shade, and its variegation is decidedly creamy white—which is a good thing for this plant combination because the lovely stripes are almost exactly the same colors as those of the variegated boxwood.
False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa)
Zones: 4 to 9
Size: Up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil
This lush, woodland native is adaptable to almost any southern garden, where its clumps of arching, glossy green foliage; panicles of frothy white flowers; and showy red autumnal berries make it a harbinger of any season. In our simple combination, I imagine false Solomon’s seal hugging up against the variegated boxwood and arching up and out over the roof iris and sedge, bringing a resonance to the whole scene.
Photos: www.millettephotomedia.com; courtesy of David McMullin; Bill Johnson; Jerry Pavia. Illustration: Elara Tanguy