Published September 10, 2011 | By Robert LaHoff

One of the things I love about plants is the image they can conjure up. While the total landscape can leave an indelible impression in your mind of beauty, I like dissecting the parts and seeing the individual beauty of a plant. For instance, a large specimen of weeping White Pine, Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’, or weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies ‘Pendula’, can look prehistoric and stoic. To me both plants, in their mature state, look like Aloysius Snuffleupagus aka Mr. Snuffleupagus or Snuffy. If you have kids or remember your childhood well enough, you know I’m speaking about one of the Muppet characters from Sesame Street. A woolly mammoth, without tusks or visible ears that is similar in shape to a dinosaur. Two other plants that have proven to be fun in our garden, with very distinct style and texture, remind me of dreadlocks. Dreadlocks for those of you who don’t know are matted coils of hair also called locks, dreads or Jata.

A Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’, has for many years adorned our garden. Unusual foliage and a mop-like head appearance, ‘Whipcord’ has long, thick, glossy tendrils. I have likened this plant also to Medusa, a Gorgon in Greek mythology. Clearly an unusual and interesting plant, ours has amassed compliments for years just sitting in a cobalt blue pot. The conversation usually starts with wow or what is that; our ‘Whipcord’ has proven to be a plant that most non-plant people remember. Unlike the species, which is a true giant in the forest, ‘Whipcord’ has its branches pushing upward and quickly arching and cascading downward. Crisp green foliage in the summer, ‘Whipcord’ picks up bronze margins in the autumn and winter, matching its inner wood. Resistant to a deer’s appetite, at least so far, ‘Whipcord’s’ overall stature is about 5 feet tall and almost as wide. A perfect siting for this dwarf conifer is sun until midday and a bit of protection from hot afternoon sun. One of the stronger landscape design solutions I have seen with this plant is an embankment of ‘Whipcords’, some 50 in total, with White Birch, Betula papyrifera, coming through the mass. Beautiful, strong white stilts help bounce and punctuate each of these plants leaving an impression in my mind years later. Strong white peeling bark against deep green, glossy tendrils, what a great combination of textures. Intolerant of dry conditions, remember that Western Red Cedars are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, hence cool, moist forest areas prevail. We have Drakes Crossing Nursery in Silverton, Oregon to thank for this unique and whimsical cultivar. I’m still waiting for my light brown seed cones (about ½” long) to appear!

An Oriental Arborvitae, Thuja (syn. Platycladus) orientalis ‘Frankie Boy’ with similar texture also reminds me dreadlocks. “Filaments of lemon-yellow foliage jut out from its lime-green interior” (Iseli Nursery). Benefitting from similar lighting and cultural conditions as ‘Whipcord’‘Frankie Boy’, to me, has more of a football; standing on end, shape to its appearance. Appreciating a yearly haircut, ‘Frankie Boy’ will maintain a more formal look with just a little nip and tuck. Not to mention its coloring will be consistent to the before mentioned. Again, here’s another plant with unique, ropelike, brightly colored tendrils that is sure to prompt questions and offer a playful gardening experience. Finally, it has been said that the body and texture of this plant can help substitute the effects of ornamental grasses. ‘Frankie Boy’ has no winter dieback and bright color all year.

Plants never cease to amaze me! Appreciative of all types, I am constantly admiring the forms, colors and textures that the plant world has to offer. Whether it is bark, foliage or flowers there is never enough time to learn it all. I always chuckle when people think all plants or trees are just green. I am reminded of the musical Gigi when Honoré Lachaille’s (Maurice Chevalier) appreciation for life is repudiated by Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan). In it there is a song called ‘It’s A Bore’ where trees are said to always be green. Honoré’s view of “the myriad of treasures we have got” and “you can hear every tree almost saying look at me” have long been sentiments of mine. Life is too short not to have fun! With all the plant choices available to you today, why plant the same old impatiens and begonias in your planters? Spice things up, learn a new plant and imbibe the treasures that nature has afforded us.