December's plant of the month

Our choice this month has variously been described as 'cute conifer wearing dreadlocks' and 'a shaggy tree on a stick'

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'We would all recognise a western red cedar if we saw one growing in a park or garden or as a hedge. Perhaps not by name, but it would probably be a relatively ordinary conifer that we’d barely acknowledge.

Well, sometimes plants do funny things, and produce “sports” which is where part of the plant grows with significant differences to the parent plant in terms of its flower, colour, leaf shape or branch structure.  This is how Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ came to be, discovered in a nursery in Oregon, USA.

On Wisley’s Winter Walk, we chose a selection of winter interest plants – to show off berries, stem and bark colour, winter flowers and scent, evergreen foliage and a mix of foliage forms and textures. It’s full of unusual treats and one of the gems is this shaggy little tree.

Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ has the appearance of an exploding firework with its mass of tendrils falling from the centre point. These are the branches, but because they dangle down so much they are excellent for containers where they can be raised up. As an alternative, we’re growing them as standards, i.e. on a trunk. That way the tree can show off its tendril-like form without suffering from muddy soil splashback.

This diminutive form of a usually much larger tree would add interest to any garden, all year round. We grow ours surrounded by Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ and the silver stems of Rubus biflorus AGM, but imagine it in the summer surrounded by hostas and ferns, looking prehistoric, or in a container garden of subtropical plants. What endless opportunities!

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