Cotinus Coggyria; Smoke Bush:
This does sound a bit like an infectious disease of the digestion, but it is actually one of my favourite plants. As anyone who reads my ramblings will know, I love plants that are not green, this one has plum coloured leaves, and if you can get the sun shining through the leaves, they really take on a sunset glow.
Cotinus Coggyria and sunshine
It can get big, so you have to be prepared to get the loppers out, otherwise you have lots of bare branches and a few leaves at the ends. I have cut mine almost back to a stump and back it comes ( don’t do this regularly though). Hard pruning really just keeps the nice bits of the plant where you want them, rather than several feet in the air.
In summer it has frothy flower heads that are purply grey, and give this plant it’s common name – smoke bush. It really acts as a great foil for other plants especially silver and grey ones, but you can surround it with so many different colours, mine has a pale pink rose that flowers next to it in late spring one side, a giant silver Cardoon the other and in late autumn a chocolate brown Eupatorium comes up, just before the Cotinus drops its leaves in Winter, so a really really useful plant.
These apparently grow so prolifically in South Africa, many out there regard them as weeds – well I love this ‘weed’. Agapanthus look really stunning if you get a good clump of them together, whether you put these in pots (which usually they do really well in) or whether you have them in the garden, sunshine, really well drained soil and neglect and they seem to thrive!
I never mulch or feed mine, if I have I got loads of green fleshy leaves and a pifflling number of flower heads, so ‘treat em mean to keep em keen’ is the watch word, that way the plants think ‘oh gosh I’m going to die’, so send up loads of flowers which will set seed and ensure its offspring survives. However if you are cunning enough to ensure they get a watering occasionally (especially the potted ones), they get to the end of the year and you can trick them all over again next summer! Oh, in case you wonder what they look like, think large electric blue balls of flowers on stalks 3 feet high.
Gardens to me are about creating something that is interesting to look at, something that is made up of lots of different colours and textures and creates an enjoyable place to sit in.
Echinops is one plant that does tick a number of boxes in the ‘good garden plant’ category
Echinops is a really wonderful plant to use , it looks different, it looks prickly (but it’s really only pretending), but it is really worth having because the leaves are a steely grey/blue and they have lollipop pompoms of intense blue flowers, which fade to whitish ghost balls in the autumn.
Honey bees love them too, as do loads and loads of moths and butterflies. In winter the plant can turn a ghostly white colour, especially if you buy ‘Mrs Wilmotts Ghost’ which makes the garden more interesting all year round. Oh and I like the sound of the name!
If you have not been lucky enough to spend a week in the Caribbean, but love dreaming about the possibility of going there, then a couple of these wonderful plants will certainly help your imagination along the way.
OK, they are not truly hardy in the UK, I live on the South Coast and mine pop up every year, in spite of being summarily ignored by me for most of the year. If you live more North, it’s probably best to put these in a large pot and then give them a bit of shelter in the winter, remember it is usually cold wet that kills.
Mine have survived some pretty severe frosts, and yes it does snow south of the Watford Gap in sufficient quantities to make snowmen. However, my soil is not really waterlogged and so they survive.
When they do, you are rewarded with large tropical leaves in extremely tropical colours and flowers that seem to be built for humming birds to pop in and out of them. I would add, that mine would look bigger bolder and more exotic if I remembered to add manure in spring (they do like a lot of food) and also if I remembered to water them more often (it rains a lot in the tropics), so mine look great but not spectacular, but I like ‘great’ and I sometimes haven’t got time to ensure they are spectacular.
I know I am an advocate for self reliant fuss free plants, but I am also a sucker for romantic comedies – and this plant is definitely in the ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ category of flowers.
‘Duckface’ was a beautiful woman, but a little highly strung and prone to an occasional strop but she was worth having around – just like this plant.
Gaura might not make it through a really cold wet winter, but with good drainage, it will send up loads of wobbly stems in early summer, they need a bit of a corset to stop things flopping (but past 40 don’t we all?), but if you can love it enough to do these things then the best variety is called ‘whirling butterflies’ which is probably the most apt description of the flowers there is!
Many of you will never have heard of these, but if I tell you their common name is ‘angels fishing rods’, I bet you get an instant mental image even without a picture!
These plants don’t fall into my truly self reliant category, but they are worth having a go. The best one is the most easily available variety, pulcherrimum, the leaves can look a bit like a teenagers bedroom floor, but then they flower, so are easily forgiven.
These are fishing rod length thin ‘waft in the wind’ stems with 30-40 pinky/purple bell shaped fairy hats dangling on one side.
Although their common name conjures up images of water, these are in fact prairie plants, so they hate having waterlogged roots! So wherever you put them, two rules apply, lots of sun and good drainage.
Mine grow in a sun trap next to a gravel drive, so the soil is quite rubbish and full of shingle, I do lift the leaves up from the ground using plant supports as they are long thin strappy ‘trip you uppy’ leaves if you let them fall across the path!
Lavender serves many purposes in the garden, firstly it reminds you of summer holidays on the continent which is good, secondly it smells wonderful, which is also good, thirdly for the truly industrious amongst you, it provides flowers to dry, add to cooking, put in posies, put in bags to help you sleep etc, which is also good, but by far the best thing it does of all – it is one of the best ‘butterfly bistro’s’ around.
My lavender positively hums with life all summer, bees of all shape and size, butterflies, hoverflies and ladybirds in the day and a myriad of moths at night. It has to be one of the best plants ever and you can get loads of shapes sizes and colours, so if your garden is lavenderless you are really missing out!
America has ‘Old Faithful’ the geyser that reliably pops up and ‘does it’s thing’ again and again – well this is the the plant world’s equivalent of ‘Old Faithful’.
It is a plant to tuck at the back, as the green of the leaves is quite a dark flat green, but the leaf shape is nice, the plant is not a dense thicket, more the quiet kid at the back of the class who you suddenly find out is brilliant at street dancing!
I know I use a lot of metaphors and English teachers would probably squirm at my prose, but I choose plants because of how they make me feel, and this unassuming ‘child at the back’ every year throws up some pure white, incredibly pretty white daisy like flowers about 4 feet in the air – and it sends up loads of them, which then sway and dance in shade, or sunnier sites, they don’t care where they are.
There is a pink variety, but quite honestly it’s not a patch on the white one.
One word of caution though, for all the good about it, if you plant it in the wrong place it can be a problem. So, not near patios or paths and not in rich lush soil where it will begin to spread underground quite quickly. This is a plant you need to ‘treat mean to keep it keen’!
What makes a good plant – well in my book,
ones that don’t get smothered with bugs,
one that has pretty, natural looking flowers,
one that grows up and doesn’t flop everywhere,
one that self seeds without becoming a pest,
one that I cut down only once a year and forget,
one that insects like to buzz around,
one that smells wonderful (this is the only bit it falls short on),
and one that has a wonderful colour and that works well with loads of other plants…..
You should be sold on it by now!
Why do I like these so much, well I suppose I am a sucker for flowers that create a mood – and when these ones flower, my mood is happy.
I know the plant disappears in the winter, and is a little slow to re-emerge, but that’s because it flowers in late summer, and the one I have ‘Goldstrum’ has golden yellow petals, which kind of catch the fact that the late summer sun is a bit less acid yellow and has taken on a more mellow ‘manyana’ attitude.
These plants don’t rush to set flower, so we benefit as they begin to shine just as everything else is beginning to look a little weary. Oh and the seedheads are attractive too, a bit like small black beehives!