It’s not at all difficult to see why Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has been the holder of an RHS Award of Garden Merit for a number of years. It ticks all the boxes as a good shrub, and gets one tick above similar sized and coloured forms of acers, as it puts on an impressive floral display too.
Having several specimens of Cotinus across the gardens, the most impressive is towards the end of the Mediterranean border, near to the pavilion leading into the plant centre. This plant is roughly 15 years old and has had little, if no, pruning done in that time, so is a great example to appreciate the size and naturally compact habit it has if left to its own devices.
This is the most impressive red/purple form, if it’s the depth of colour you’re after – it’s also the most compact, too. From June onwards, unpruned specimens begin to produce the finely branched panicles that give it its common name of the smoke bush. It can be very impressive, and in the autumn the richly coloured foliage changes to more fiery tones, adding to the beauty of the plant.
Generally, Cotinus are listed as a shrub that can be grown for its smoky plumes if left unpruned, or pruned annually at the expense of plumes, but producing an impressive show of larger and bolder foliage. This is true – but take care not to prune too hard, as the vigorous regrowth can easily get snapped off from the growing point in strong winds.
More about shrubs
Help in choosing and caring for shrubs
Our top five smaller shrubs
Graham Rice chooses a top 10