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.
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!
Small Garden Design: What does your garden say about you?
What do visitors think when they wander up your drive? Do they think what you would like them to think about you.
I bet you have really thought about the decoration in your home, what colour the walls are what furniture you have, but but the first thing people see when they visit you is what’s outside the front door – so a little thought here can make a big impression.
You may not have a very big front garden, and think that it won’t make much difference – it can and it does. So even if you only have a small space, make it gorgeous – it will make you happy too.
This front garden is really quite small, and because it’s a bungalow, you don’t want massive dark heavy planting as it will smother the building. So we have gone for two styles here, both use plants sun loving plants and neither of then have anything too tall or prickly!
The garden has been ‘created’ by the addition of a few circular beds – so you can wander amongst them. In the winter interest is maintained with coloured stems that will glow bright red in the sunshine (perfect for solar xmas lights!). Bulbs can be added for some early spring colour and then you get happy pinks and reds all summer.
This garden is using your senses, there are lots of lovely plants to run your hands over and all will hum with happy bees and insects. Again, you can plant some pretty bulbs for spring and early autumn colour. All in all a simple easy and not too expensive way to change the message your house sends out.
So go on – let’s stop having boring front lawns!
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!
Papaver or Oriental Poppies are a bit like the Oscars.
Anticipation then an over exuberance of intense activity that looks fab for a few days, then having partied hard – flop down for a rest till next year. However life would be very dull without the Oscars, and we all love a drama queen (usually), so I do think they are worth it!
Do not plant these plants though if you have a really small garden, as being fab for 2 weeks, they don’t work hard enough all year round for a truly tiny patch, but if you have a bit of space to tuck a couple in, so that once ‘the make-up’ and glamorous dresses are off you can hide the body behind something else!
Seriously though they are quite tough plants with a deep tap root, so when mine flop over everything and look hung over, I just chop all the leaves almost to the ground and they regrow some neater ones for me!
This one’s Royal Wedding.
Crocosmias are really good at creating spectacular displays without requiring acres of space.
They have bright fresh green sword like leaves, which means they grow up, not outwards and as they don’t have twiggy bits you won’t scratch yourself if they go all the way down the path.
In summer you get tropical red, orange or yellow flowers held up above the leaves, so you can see all of them.
They will spread out sideways so if they creep where you don’t want you pull up the corms (bulbs just on the surface).
The nicest thing though is they seem to glow in the sun, and so a big ‘drift’ of them is just lovely, if you want a little more colour for more of the year, team them up with Allium bulbs, Gladioli ( there are some lovely ones out there), or plant them with loads of Verbena Bonariensis or Fennel.