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Showy shrub displays through the seasons

This article was first published on 06 Jul 2016.

Cotinus 'Grace'

Cotinus 'Grace'

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

This season’s lingering autumnal colours highlight just one of the features of Cotinus 'Grace'.  It looks good over multiple seasons, as well as being easy care and combining well with many other garden plants. 

This form is a cross between the European smoke bush Cotinus coggygria and the American form, Cotinus obovatus. The common name of “smoke bush” refers to the spent flower clusters that turn to a smokey pink colour in summer, covering the tree and giving the branch tips a fluffy, hazy, smokey look.

Flowering is followed by brilliant autumn colours, ranging from red to burnt orange.  At Dunedin Botanic Garden the bush looks stunning from the rock garden as you are able to look down on it, tucked in a sheltered spot in the Lindsay Creek border opposite the Wolf Harris fountain.

Once the leaves fall off you then get a good look at the interesting form and structure of the shrub.

Late winter to early spring is the ideal time to prune, to maintain desired shape.  Cultivars of Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus produce larger leaves when hard pruned, making their vivid orangey red autumn colouring particularly striking. 

However, hard pruning will result in a loss of flowers for a time, so if you do want flowers, just lightly prune to maintain desired shape.  If you really do need to do a hard prune, it will take just a couple of years before you see flowers again.

Linda Hellyer is curator of the rose garden and herbaceous borders at Dunedin Botanic Garden