The Teddington Gardener

Cotinus Golden Spirit

P1000443

Cotinus coggygria Golden Spirit

 – an addition to the smoke bush family, adding to established favourites Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple (the darker leaves, framing the golden leaves of Golden Spirit), Flame and Grace.

I have Flame in my own garden, a tall, oval leaved tower of blue-greenery which obscures the house beyond beautifully and is adorned in summer with clouds of frothy flowers, looking like puffs of smoke. Oranges, golds and bright yellows develop through Autumn.

Royal Purple stretches over from the neighbour’s garden, with richly coloured leaves a fine contrast to the laurel, pyracantha, yew, ivy and other evergreens that form a tall living wall over which long stems of this smoke bush arc.

Golden Spirit is a more recent introduction, with paddle shaped golden yellow leaves that turn coral, orange and red in the autumn, growing 2.5m tall, by 2m wide. The flowers, as Val says below, are pink.

The Sainted Val Bourne comes to my rescue for further insights on the genus and the dark-leaved cultivars in particular….

Smoke bush: How to grow

12:01AM GMT 02 Nov 2007 The Telegraph

Val Bourne advises on techniques for growing Smoke Bush

When the wine-red foliage of Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ begins to fade in late autumn it forms a shot-silk mixture of shimmering orange-pinks, a grand sunset finale that gives a generous hint as to why cotinus is sometimes referred to as Venetian sumach.

But this dark cotinus is not just an autumn performer: the lollipop-round leaves of ‘Royal Purple’ are vibrant as soon as they appear in late spring.

The doge-purple sheen on the upper side of each leaf is softened by a green-washed underside. And there’s always a glint in the dark foliage. This hint of rich pink brings the foliage to life and ‘Royal Purple’, though dark and dramatic, is never sombre.

In the wild, C. coggygria is found on warm hillsides from Europe to China. It’s been grown in Britain since 1656, and for more than three centuries it was known as Rhus cotinus – a name that is still in use. In the wild there are forms with apple-green leaves. One splendid old specimen at the National Trust’s Hidcote Garden is a soft haze of green in summer.

Cotinus comes from the Greek for wild olive, kotinus. In days gone by these shrubs flowered in Britain only after a long, hot summer. But warmer conditions mean that flowers are often produced year after year once the plant is mature.

These frothy, feathery panicles cover the shrub, forming a soft haze in summer. As the flowers fade they turn silver-white and this is where the common name “smoke bush” comes from. The flowers literally look like puffs of smoke.

There are some excellent varieties on offer besides the widely available and acclaimed ‘Royal Purple’. The hybrids ‘Grace’ and ‘Flame’ have larger, more oval leaves, are vigorous, tree-like growers and colour up well in autumn thanks to their American blood. ‘Grace’ has purple-tinted leaves that turn scarlet and ‘Flame’ has blue-green leaves that turn orange-red.

Two recent introductions flower when very young. ‘Golden Spirit’ has lime-yellow leaves, but it will keep its bright colour only in full sun: some feel that the pink flowers clash with the foliage.

‘Young Lady’ is a green-leaved, free-flowering form. It is referred to by one nurseryman as “a poodle in a pot” because the flower heads are almost top-heavy. Both are perhaps more suitable for smaller gardens.

Growing tips

All cotinus need full sun and warmth to perform. For panicles of fluffy flowers, give this shrub the space to shine in an open, warm position. Leave it to develop into a large bush or small tree and remove dead wood in spring.

To encourage foliage at the expense of flowers, cut back or coppice it in late spring. However, your cotinus must be well-established before you embark on hard pruning.

Propagate from softwood cuttings taken from new growth in spring. Cover the pot with polythene, or use a covered propagator, and place in a shady position for several weeks to prevent wilting.

Plants can also be layered. Peg down a young stem in autumn using a staple or wire. This should produce roots by the following summer; the stem can then be severed with a spade and potted up or planted out in autumn.

Good companions

Cotinus comes into leaf later than most shrubs. But the whorls of round leaves, once they do appear, look very crisp, almost as though they’ve been meticulously cloud-pruned. So the rounded contours are easily integrated into mixed herbaceous borders of later-flowering plants.

The dark leaves of ‘Royal Purple’ flatter paler, softer colours and give extra depth to the sky-blue Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’ if it is allowed to scramble through the branches. Cotinus is also a good backdrop for blue agapanthus. Pale apricots, pinks, blues, whites, creams and lemon-yellows can be unassertive in the garden.

But they are brought to life if planted close to wine-purple foliage. ‘Buff Beauty’ roses, white Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, beige pennisetums or asters will sparkle late into the year against the sultry foliage.

The leaves are also dramatic enough to mix with strong colours, so pink, orange or warm yellow cactus dahlias look sensational. Alternatively, you could use cotinus with a hot, red mixture of crocosmias, cannas and salvias.

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