Thinking outside the box – Buxus alternatives

box alternatives

We noticed our topiary box balls don’t look as healthy as they did before. The leaves started to turn brown at first and in some places they have disappeared altogether and left some unsightly ‘holes’.

Our box balls are like the theme tune to our garden. I can’t imagine not having them flanking the path in our formal part. Could this be the dreaded box blight? Or are we dealing with the box tree caterpillar?


The truth is, I don’t know. It could be either or it could be something else alltogether. I will keep feeding and watering them and hope for the best. But it has made us look at alternatives to box.

Should the worst happen and we lose these plants (and it could spread to our other box topiary), then we are seriously looking at not having any more box in the garden. So what are the alternatives?

Our recent visit to RHS Wisley

Interestingly, one of our favourite places to visit, RHS Wisley, has a trial. Their walled garden is housing an amazing collection of alternatives to box. Beautiful in its geometric nature, different plants have been clipped to show the variety and possibilities of box alternatives.

box hedge alternatives

The display looked amazing, I knew there were some alternatives that we could use instead of box but the selection at Wisley included a lot of plants that I wouldn’t have thought of.

Here are some of those alternatives in more detail:

Ligustrum Ondulatum

Lemon Lime and Clippers. ligustrum ondulatus

I really liked the dense texture of this plant. The yellow colour is also lovely and could add an interesting contrast to a green backdrop.


I hadn’t considered conifers as an alternative but this plant looked quite happy shaped into a cone.

Lonicera Nitida

This is a shrub honeysuckle and is widely used in hedging. Interestingly the one used in the trial (picture below) is great for ground cover or low hedging.


Corokia Virgata Sunsplash

Also called wire bush.

corokia wire bush

This plant has green and cream variegated leaves. Good choice if you need a colour contrast but you don’t want a bright yellow.



I really liked this alternative. The silvery leaves add another possibility to the colour choice and looks like it can be clipped into a neat shape. There are other varieties of pittosporum and it may well be worth looking into those if replacing your box plants.

Leptospermum Grandiflorum

Also known as tea tree. This one has the added benefit of having aromatic leaves. I love growing medicinal plants in my garden so this is one on my list.

tea tree

It certainly looks very neat clipped into shape.

Spoilt for choice

There are of course many others but this small selection already offers quite a few choices. I love topiary, especially very simple geometric shapes as they give the garden a structured, ‘tidy’ look.

You can make a less than perfect garden instantly look more interesting and well put together by adding some topiary.

Even if our box balls recover (and I really hope they do), we will probably explore some of these other plants. Every visit to Wisley opens our eyes to new plants, designs and ideas. I leave you with some photos of our day out and hope you found this article of some help and inspiration.

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel Kelly
    12/06/2022 / 11:58 AM

    How about Sarcococca confusa? Scented flowers in winter.

Hope you enjoyed the post, what are your thoughts?