Several years ago, in one of my attempts to not be a total conifer snob, I experimented with quite an assortment of ornamental grasses. The funny thing is, even though I had some very specific reasons for avoiding them in the first place, they had become the latest, greatest craze amongst the garden experts I know, so I gave some of them a try, only to confirm after several years that all of my natural instincts about them would prove to be true.
Now, to be fair, I do want to say that there are some very attractive ornamental grasses available in quite an assortment of colors and sizes. I am even inclined to use a couple of them in containers mixed with other herbaceous plants that I have basically eliminated from the main garden. I definitely prefer the ultra low maintenance and year-round color, shape and texture of my conifers.
So, the other day we were having one of those blustery Pacific Northwest kind of days that begins with thick cloud cover and rain, then the wind picks up and blows the clouds away and the sun shines brightly, which is almost immediately followed by a big black cloud and more wind and rain, etc. As I was sitting next to my nice warm woodstove, sipping a cup of warm Blueberry Rooibos tea, my wife diligently clipping coupons from the Sunday paper, my phone rang.
“Ed, dude! You’ve gotta tell me you love all these cool ornamental grasses I just saw!”
My young nephew and his wife have been bit by the garden bug and have suddenly started watching every garden show they can find on TV or online video.
“These are like the greatest things I’ve ever seen. They’ll add lots of color and soft flowing texture and they move and sway in a gentle breeze!” He said as if trying to sell me on his new discovery.
“Yes, they are all that aren’t they.” I said trying not to squelch his excitement too quickly. “They also are prolific seeders and spread themselves all over the garden. Not to mention the lovely dead brown piles they turn into in the winter. Of course you could shear them all down to stiff brown stubs in November when it’s pouring down rain if you want.”
“Dude, you really know how to kill a guy’s enthusiasm.”
“I think I may have an excellent alternative for you.” I said and I invited him over for a little garden tour.
My nephew has been over many times, and I’ve done my best to convert him to strict coniferism, but there are many temptations out there, so I will need be patient.
We walked around my garden during one of the brief sun-breaks and I led him straight to the plant I was thinking had the characteristics he admired in the grasses he had seen. Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ is a very unusual form of the Western Red Cedar, a native forest tree in our area. ‘Whipcord’ was selected as a seedling among thousands and thousands of tiny little trees several years ago at a nursery here in Oregon and has become very popular ever since its introduction to the trade.
‘Whipcord’ is one of those unique conifers with very long, wispy cords of foliage that grows as a mounding form. The long branches grow upward and out arching and weeping toward the ground. The little branches will move and flow and sway in the slightest breeze providing much the same effect for which the ornamental grasses are touted. It’s broad mounding form is also similar to many of the grasses. One obvious advantage is that it is evergreen – it will provide its wonderful display of multi-seasonal color all year-long!
Great texture, interesting form, appealing movement, wonderful year-round color, great in containers and essentially maintenance free. Well, I’ve certainly convinced myself, I think my nephew is on track now too.