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.
You have all seen these, little 6 packs of different conifers or a six pack of multi colours of pansies, or a six pack of little herbaceous plants.
You get one of each plant, you buy it, go home and then what?
A bit of a bedding runway
mixed bedding at it’s ‘best’
By all means buy a 6 pack of the same variety of plant, that way you can get 2×3 or 3×2 little clumps of the same plant which will have infinitely more impact in your garden.
Otherwise, leave the little six packs all alone in the Garden Centre and buy something more useful instead!
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.
OK perhaps I am being a little harsh, but it does look rather lonely. The drive is totally paved, which really only leaves the option of pots, but only one pot does look out of scale. So I think it would improve the whole frontage of the house to have a much larger planter.
Now the trouble with lots of plants in one pot together is lack of sufficient water for all to thrive, so these plants from the Loud Pinks and Rich Velvets PlantPlot, can cope with less water than others, but you would still need to water this planter really well every couple of days.
I know they look a little bright in the picture, but the images of the plants were taken on a sunny day and ‘adjusting the light saturation levels etc’ in Photoshop is way beyond my skills!
Anyway, the plants used are strong, warm colours, to compliment the brick walls.
The planter used is also black, two things though, firstly I would repaint the black strip at the base of the house, to help the planter ‘blend in’ and secondly I would also repaint the brick planter black also, as you can see there is now a much better finish.
It’s so easy, and it really does make a positive impact to the house, all you have to do is a little trim at the end of the year and remember to water the planter regularly.
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!