Call it a revelation, but I think I may like smoking smoke bushes after all.
I've been somewhat of a smoke snob until recently. Smoke bushes (Cotinus species) are fabulous foliage shrubs without a doubt. Yet the classic 'Royal purple' smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal purple'), with or without its fluffy pink 'smoke' (flowers) has just never grabbed me. The leaves are a nice color but not especially large and that puffy stuff (aka smoke/flowers) was quite frankly a turn off. As new varieties were hybridized and the foliage got more interesting THEN I was hooked!
With iridescent foliage over twice the size of its parents, 'Grace' (Cotinus x Grace) really brought new life to the mixed border with stunning blue and purple hues – but I was greedy! I wanted even bigger foliage so I coppiced mine every spring to prevent blooms and encourage steroidal sized leaves. Fabulous. I added burnt orange 'Flasher' daylilies to the front and sat back to watch the show! 'Grace' grows to 10-15' tall and wide if not coppiced yet mine easily grew to 6' x 6' each year even after being hacked back to just 2' above ground in April. Moreover each leaf could be 3" or more long – really quite remarkable.
Next came the 'chartreuse era.' "Ah yes" you say, "circa 2000". True. But 'Golden spirit' (Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot') has come through the initial hype with glowing reviews. Luminous golden foliage is etched with copper in early spring making it a wonderful partner to cinnamon toned Heucherella such as 'Sweet tea'. Yet again I'm all about the leaves so I coppice the shrub to prevent flower formation and allow the shrub to focus on outstanding foliage production instead. 6-8' tall and 5' wide.
So why this post? I've decided I do quite like smoke after all. My daughter recently gave me her 'Old fashioned' smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria 'Old fashioned') and I have found a new love! Soft blue-green foliage blends seamlessly into the garden without drawing undue attention to itself yet is far from boring. Each leaf is etched delicately with burgundy and the SMOKE is delightful. Yes really. Or at least what I have seen so far is delightful. Soft buttery-yellow buds catch the light and add just the right amount of sparkle to the garden. The shrub catches your attention without screaming "Look at ME"! In my garden, 'Old fashioned' smoke bush is the perfect visual resting place between a golden locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia') and purple barberries (Berberis sp.). It offers a soothing note before the more usual 'Karen – Kaleidoscope'. 6' tall and 5' wide.
'Young lady' (Cotinus coggygria 'Young lady') is another relatively new introduction which piqued my interest last year after seeing it in the display gardens at Bellevue Botanical Gardens. Gentle teal green foliage was decorated with plumes of frothy pink flowers. Being a gardener who is especially interested in plant combinations I was especially struck by how the designers had paired this with a pale pink rose. It was like a modern take on adding maidenhair fern to a rose bowl; so delicate and fresh. Each set its companion off to perfection and was all the more significant for the partnership. 8-10' tall and wide
So smoke CAN be a good thing in the garden – who knew?
What's your favorite smoke bush?
Smoke bushes are hardy in zones 5-9 but would make fabulous foliage plants even for seasonal combinations.