Folly in Planting Design – Boxwood Clouding

An example of Boxwood Cloudingimage: Wirtz International Landscape Architects
An example of Boxwood Clouding
image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects

Although nothing beats the architectural simplicity and evergreen staying power of a boxwood hedge in a traditional garden design, the element of folly in topiary and ‘clouded’ boxwood hedging is being embraced thanks to the exquisite work of Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz and his firm, Wirtz International Landscape Architects.

Wirtz International, with its sister company, form the largest landscape garden design business in Belgium.  Founder Jacques Wirtz was born in Antwerp in 1924 and established the company in 1950.  For the last 25 years, the business has been a family company, led by his two sons, Martin and Peter.

The Wirtz family home, purchased in 1969 for his family, is a modest brick building that was once the gardener’s house on an 18th-century estate. “Its most famous feature is its rows of boxwood hedges, which had grown untrimmed for years before Wirtz bought the property. Since they could no longer be pruned into a conventional, flat-sided form, Wirtz followed their strange contours, clipping them into what some have described as clouds; they also appear to roll and boil like some fantastic genie in a children’s story. By honoring the spirit of something very old, Wirtz created something entirely new.”1

Wirtz family gardensimage: Wirtz International Landscape Architects
Wirtz family gardens
image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects

Wirtz’s formal, theatrical approach to garden design relies much on his willingness to clip yew and boxwood hedges into high, formal backdrops for the rest of his work.

image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects
image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects

At another Belgian 50-acre estate with a charming traditional 17th-century house -long and low, with a symmetry emphasized by stepped gables and dormer windows – the owner wanted to formalize what he describes as a “prairie of a garden,” so he  turned to Jacques Wirtz, who used hornbeam hedges, yew topiary, and linden trees to divide the landscape into “rooms.” “The closer to the house you get, the more intimate they become, and the further away, the more open,” explains Jacques’s son Martin. The effect is nearly that of walking through a maze: “It’s very important to be alone in your own little world,” says the owner. “I want to be able to swim where no one can see me in the pool, and when I’m walking in the garden I don’t want to take in everything at one time.”2

Private gardenimage: Jean-Pierre Gabriel, Architectural Digest
Private garden
image: Jean-Pierre Gabriel, Architectural Digest

Wirtz’s boxwoods can take on many forms.  As described on the Wirtz International website, this residential garden includes “a raised reflecting pond, surrounded by a buxus hedge, the water mirrored in the greenhouse on the right-hand side. From this rectangular pond, a natural flow of box hedges, which move around existing yew trees, gives the garden more depth.  Combined with the rectangular form of the garden, this creates an interesting symbiosis of forms.”3

Private Garden, Bruges, Belgium 2001-2002image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects
Private Garden, Bruges, Belgium 2001-2002
image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects

For more on the planting design of Wirtz International Landscape Architects, head to the library to view a copy of their luxurious 2 volume tome: The Wirtz Gardens with photography by Marco Valdivia and text by Patrick Taylor.

image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects
image: Wirtz International Landscape Architects

Or read more online:

A Backyard in Flanders by Véronique Vienne
Posted February 17, 2010

distinct vision. :: The Wirtz Gardens by joseph hillen meyer
Posted October 2009


1 The Constant Gardener. Pilar Viladas. Published: May 16, 2004.

2 A Heavenly Home and Garden in Belgium. Anthony Gardner. Architectural Digest. Published: August 2011.

3 Wirtz International Landscape Architects

by Deirdre E. Toner, Co-chair of the Planting Design PPN

Leave a Reply