Holy Smoke

Did I mention I love Blotanical? I find it amazing how the love of gardening brings people together from all over the world. On a daily basis, I am not only talking to people from Ontario, but also from England, South Africa, Germany, and all over the US.  But it was chatting to a lovely lady from Australia that inspire this post.

It is always heart warming  when someone admires you blog, and when catmint faved me, just out of the blue I was chuffed (see, too much time spent living in England, I have even picked up some of the slang!).  Messages were exchanged back and forth, and when 20 messages about smoke bush were sent  on Blotanical, she suggested we write a post about it.

So here it is.


What can I say about smokebush other than I love it? Is it not the perfect plant. Large dramatic leaves, amazing colours, I just love it. (Wait, I already said that).

This is Purple Cloak, photo courtesy of Catmint.

When I was living in Kingston, Ontario, I had a black and white garden. At that time, (almost 7 years ago), black plants were not very common. I was always looking for them, mostly they were more of a dark maroony purple. But that is ok, I could live with that. And I found smokebush, Royal Purple to be exact. Oh, I was in love (you notice I am using the word love a lot). Velvety purple leaves, it was glorious. I quickly bought two, and planted them on either side of an arbour that I had bought to divide my (tiny) garden into “rooms. These quickly grew up and gave some definition and hid the garden behind. But wait, what is wrong with my dark, velvety leaves, why were they going greeny, purple.  A bit of investigation by Sherlock Mills, and I found out the reason. The new growth has the most colour (should have been obvious just looking at it). So, I learned to coppice my smoke bush. What a difference, so fast growing, it seems that it sprung up and hid the thyme garden behind overnight. And the leaves were so dark.  However the best thing is….

OK, can you keep a secret? I don’t like the flower. I find it very messy looking and I think that it dies unattractively. It doesn’t flower on new growth so coppicing was a winning solution all around for me.

Now there are so many new varieties out, I might have to try them all. How about “Golden Spirit” a bright chartreuse (my favourite colour), or “Grace”. She is supposed to emerge a light red and darken through the summer. She sounds yummy as well. The best thing about coppicing the smoke bush is it really keeps the size in check. They can get up to 4 metres or 12 feet , big for a small garden.

Grace, photo courtesy of Catmint

I hope that you are going to give me the dirt (so to speak) on your adventures with smokebush.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,


Purple Cloak, photo curtesy of Catmint


It was great to get your letter about smokebush.  I am also a great fan of this bush. In fact I wonder whether we should start an international fan club for smokebush, if one doesn’t already exist. I would have no objections that you be the president but the problem is that people may find out your secret that you don’t like the flowers! I love the flowers, which gives it that romantic smoky haze.

In my garden I have two varieties: Purple Cloak and Grace. Grace is more orange but at times is olive green, Velvet Cloak darker and more maroony purple. They change all the year round – changing their colour foliage and then dropping their leaves. Actually I wonder whether Royal Purple  and Purple Cloak is the same plant but with different labels.

I have also found they are fast growing and Grace is getting quite big for its (her?) place. I do trim it but not as radically I think as coppicing. That’s another wonderful thing about them – they don’t mind being shaped.

Grace, photo courtesy of Catmint

I believe smokebush came originally from California, which has a similar climate to Melbourne and has plants that don’t mind migrating across the world.  So tough that they withstand transplanting and not watering. Their botanical name is Cotinus.

Smokebush are a wonderful contrast to green and grey leaved plants. We have similar aesthetics Deborah because my favourite plant colours are probably black or at least dark purple. I also love the idea of garden rooms. I have found that if you don’t see the boundary you have no idea how large or small the garden is. Unfortunately in my garden the rooms keep disappearing as the walls get shifted around.

Good to share the dirt on smokebush with you.




38 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Liisa said,

    This is certainly one of my favorite shrubs, too. I have ‘Royal Purple’, which was just planted last year. While still small, he is quite handsome!! Deborah, maybe the flowers will grow on you. 🙂

    • 2

      Liisa I should try it again, maybe they would, after all, olives did!
      With smokebush, it seems either you get that really intense colour from the new growth, or flowering on the old wood. You can’t have both.

  2. 3

    Gail said,

    I love Smokebush and have even seen it growing of a highway cliff. I just put Grace in the garden. A friend questioned where I placed her, saying she would get too big…but I knew I could prune her! I don’t care if she flowers either…her fall coloring has been spectacular and so was the new leaves as they emerged. gail

    • 4

      Gail, I actually enjoy pruning! There is something so satisfying about shaping a plant to look its best. And the new growth on these plants, gorgeous!
      Thank you for visiting my blog, I hope to see you again.

  3. 5

    Joy said,

    My goodness you two !!
    I just ended my post from yesterday with a picture of my Royal Purple smokebush .. I have posted a lot of pictures of Golden Spirit because the colours have been so fantastic.
    I too cut back my smokebush and I also do not like the flowers, so Deborah I am with you on that matter .. I am considering “Grace” for a smaller version but my main object of desire for next year is still that Korean Maple.
    Hey .. if you form a smokebush appreication club .. can I join too please ?
    Joy : )

    • 6

      Joy, maybe there is something about putting it out to the universe. It seems like it happens quite frequently, you are thinking about a post on a particular plant and someone posts just before you.
      I am glad you are in my camp on the flowers, I just think that they look a bit messy. You are now a proud member of the SA club!

  4. 7

    fairegarden said,

    What a delightful read, both of you! We have two smokes, one that is coppiced each year and one that will be lightly pruned to tree form. They are fast growing and it is fun to prune. I also coppice three dappled willows to keep them smaller for the bed and for the new growth which is combination of pink and white in spring. Spirit really sounds like a beauty. 🙂

    • 8

      Frances, I also have those variegated willows (another free plant from work). I actually love to prune them in early spring, those pretty pink stems and let them leaf out in the house. Another way for me to get nature indoors, since she is very slow making her way up to Canada.

  5. 9

    Mary Delle said,

    I’ve seen it and admired it. So happy you can have it in your garden and have plans for more.

  6. 11

    Deborah (and Catmint), I like the flowers on the older cultivars of smokebush, especially the purple on purple varieties, but I’ve noticed that the newer types have more open, pitty smoke clouds that aren’t as attractive. Like coppicing, I guess you have to exchange flowers for leaf colour. You’ve inspired me to consider adding a coppiced shrub to my garden somehow. Another plant often best kept in check this way is the only kind of Manitoba maple worth growing, Acer negundo ‘Flamingo’ which has pink and white variegation.

    • 12

      Helen, I am happy to exchange leaf colour for flowers. I had it in my garden in the Beach, and it did really well. Coppicing keeps it quite small which with the tiny lots, makes such a big difference. When I was taking a course at Marion Jarvies garden, I found out that she coppices many trees, including a golden elm.

  7. 13

    Wendy said,

    This is so fun and cool that you both wrote this together. How wonderful that this has brought you together. The smokebush is really beautiful. I love that purple cloak.

    • 14

      Wendy, it is very cool that Blotanical brought together two gardeners from the opposite ends of the world. But also very cool to realize how much we are alike, even though we garden so far apart.

  8. 15

    I agree – the greatest thing about Blotanical is being able to connect with gardeners all over the world – it is fun to see what grows in all these different gardens. I believe smokebush can grow in my zone7b garden. I don’t have one yet, but now I will add it to my future purchase list. As I explore Blotanical, that list keeps growing!

    • 16

      Deborah, It is very enjoyable to see gardens from all over the world, and everyone is so nice! I am sure that smokebush would grow in your garden. I know what you mean about the future purchase list, mine keeps getting longer and longer.

  9. 17

    Grace said,

    Hi Deborah~~ What a thoroughly entertaining post. I’ve got catmint on my fave list too. I’m pretty sure the prognosis for my Cotinus is death by heat stroke. I transplanted it but didn’t keep it watered until established. I’ll be setting aside a few dollars to get a replacement next spring. Nice photos too.

  10. 19

    miss m said,

    I *heart* cotinus, too !

    • 20

      They are beautiful, but very slow to leaf out in the spring. Do you have one in your garden?

      • 21

        miss m said,

        Unfortunately not, Deb. Cotinus has got to be one of my greatest Zone 5 heartbreaks. (I’ve seen only a few Zone 4 varieties, Zone 4b to be exact, I’m 4a). Then again, the front garden is south facing and completely sheltered from the north. It’s the perfect spot to get away with less hardy plants. I ditched the 2 junipers that were framing the front door a couple of years back (I hate juniper like you hate blue spruce !) and cotinus has been a contender for replacement. I’m still weighing my options.

      • 22

        Miss M, coppicing it might work, as you can protect the roots of the smoke bush. It really grows fast in the spring, I think mine got to 4-5 feet high in one season.

      • 23

        miss m said,

        I just feel that coppicing after a while makes the base unsightly. But I would have to cut it back anyway to save (some if not all of) the branches from breakage as I have to dump a portion of the front steps’ snow on it (about 4 feet accumulates there. It would be well isolated that’s for sure).
        I have an even better spot for a cotinus at the back and will probably try out a 4b variety there. Thx for tip, Deborah. I really enjoy and appreciate the feedback. You’re a great gardening exchange source ! 🙂

      • 24

        Thanks Miss M, you are very kind. I know what you mean about the coppicing and the base. I planted very closely around the base with perennial geraniums, they wove through the base, it was really only noticeable, early spring and winter before the snow. We also have to be careful with the snow, lots of people in Owen Sound have those little sandwich boards that they place over there shrubs to protect them from the weight of the snow. I feel, I want to see the shrubs in winter, not boards so have never done this, although I tied my Emerald cedars to the snow wouldn’t split them open. (But the string is hardly noticeable.)

  11. 25

    Mary Delle said,

    Deborah, Thanks for the comment on my blog about Arboretum wildlife. I did have fun that day walking and snapping pictures. It’s a great place to walk.

  12. 27

    catmint said,

    This is SO FUN, I feel really excited. Deborah and I have emailing about this for a while. I have done a guest post once, but wasn’t sure how to share a post. Well not only have we managed, and you commenters have as usual been encouraging and lovely – but we are starting a continus global fan club!!!!

    • 28

      Catmint, it was a lot of fun. It is so interesting how the same plant fares on two opposite ends of the world. Hopefully, we have encouraged a few more gardeners to plant continus in their gardens.

  13. 29

    Valerie said,

    Hello: We have a huge smokebush just outside our front door. During the summer it is covered in huge plumes of smoke. We have taken it to our OHA meeting as a specimen numerous times and always come out a ribbon winner. We do need to give it a trim from time to time. It is a really interesting shrub.

  14. 31

    Barbara said,

    It took me a while to realize that smoke bush is the German “Perückenstrauch”, which literally means “wig bush”. I don’t think it grows much where I am, but now that you’re starting up an international fan club, guess I better look into it! l

    • 32

      Barbara, why do you think the Germans call it a wig bush? Sometimes, you do not notice a plant, and then when you start to look for it, it is everywhere. Or maybe you will be the founding president of the German chapter of the Cotinus International Fan Club.

  15. 33

    Alice Joyce said,

    ‘Grace’ presides over my garden! Supposedly a shrub! Well, I’ve pruned it sculpturally ever since planting her, and the form is more like a reaching, stretching small tree. She’s been coppiced, and shaped and altered throughout each growing season. This year has been the most beautiful fall color in nearly a decade. All the pruning prevents much flowering. But the shape of the curving branches is something to see!
    Look forward to our exchanges on The Gardener Forum!!

  16. 35

    Gloria Bonde said,

    I have a blog award for you on my blog – Gloria

  17. 37

    Gloria Bonde said,

    I have a blog award for you on my site – Enjoy – Gloria

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