These two very fine old box Buxus sempervirens trees stand beside the disused railway line (now the Tees Valley Railway Walk) near Mickleton in Teesdale. Box is slow-growing so I'd guess that this pair, which are almost four metres tall, must be quite old. The plant's specific epithet, sempervirens, means 'living for ever' and box has a reputation for longevity and indestructibility; Teesdale's notoriously severe winters clearly haven't done it any harm.
But who planted them? Box isn't native in County Durham. Gordon Graham's Flora and Vegetation of County Durham only mentions box as a species planted in parks and large gardens but these trees are out in the open countryside,and well away from buildings. My guess is that they were originally planted at the site of an old railway station or railway building that has long-since disappeared.
Box foliage has a distinctly unpleasant smell when crushed.
Flower buds in the leaf axils. The tiny greenish-yellow flowers, without petals, open in April.
The wood is very close grained and hard, as might be expected of such a slow-growing woody plant, and was favourite material for wood engravers. It was also used for decorative additions to furniture, since it polishes well.
In gardens it's often grown as a clipped shrub and Pliny, the Roman naturalist, mentions that it was grown and cut into topiary figures in Roman gardens.
Old herbalists mention that a decoction of the leaves stimulates hair growth and turns it red.