Smoke bush a winner no matter time of year

Cotinus ‘Grace’ in all it’s smoky glory next to Lindsay Creek. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
Cotinus ‘Grace’ in all it’s smoky glory next to Lindsay Creek. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
In July last year I wrote a Plant Life article on the stunning smoke bush Cotinus ‘Grace’. It’s a cross between the European smoke bush Cotinus coggygria and the American form, Cotinus obovatus.

My focus was on drawing attention to the lingering autumn colour. While I’m back singing its praises again, this time it’s the summer flowering display that has caught my eye.

It’s absolutely stunning.  As you can see in the photo, this shrub is covered with spent flower clusters which turn a smoky pink colour in summer, covering the tree and giving the branch tips a fluffy, hazy, smoky look.  Hence the common name smoke bush.

The ideal time to prune is late winter to early spring. Hard pruning of the one in the photo is required this winter to reshape and tidy.  This will result in loss of flowers for a few seasons. However there is a bonus: the cultivars of Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus tend to produce larger leaves when hard pruned, making their vivid orangey-red autumn colouring particularly striking.  If you wish to retain a good flowering display, prune only lightly.

To see its end-of-summer display you can find this Cotinus located in the border parallel to Lindsay Creek opposite the Wolf Harris fountain. Combining nicely with the perennials planted nearby, this grouping works well together.

- Linda Hellyer is curator of the herbaceous borders at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

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