Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Return to cool weather, in the 60s.

I am thinking about taking out the smokebush at the top of the driveway. It is Cotinus 'Grace', and it is beautiful in form as a mature shrub and lovely in leaf as it fills out. I still want one, but not here.

It gets cut back each winter to a few stubs, and then regrows beautifully and quickly in late May with nice foliage. But the problem is that it leaves a big empty spot until it regrows, and the table and chairs in the gravel garden are the things I most want screened from the street, especially in the early openness of spring.

This is as of May 13 and you can't even see the bare stubs. It isn't doing anything to define the seating area or shield it from the street and driveway, even as the landscape greens up and the weather becomes nice enough to sit there.

It is definitely ready to leaf out. I can see the bright red leaf buds forming. When it does start, it is quick, but this is mid May already.

The other problem is that in fall it is gorgeous, but its big upright form and complex wine purple color competes with the coppery paperbark maple next to it. I think some lower profile shrubs to the left of the maple would screen the area without overwhelming the paperbark so much.

My inspiration for putting a smokebush here came from a couple sources. One was Berkshire Botanical Garden, which had them in a mixed border along the side of the old house, with a low stone wall in front. See the sparkling red spires on the right --- I love everything about this composition.

The photo of this house at Berkshire Botanical was taken on July 25, at the height of summer. The smokebush is small, upright and almost tidy looking. Mine gets huge and ungainly by summer.

Another inspiration came from David and Sharon Mann's garden here in town. Their smokebush was such a nice undulating form with glistening purple foliage. Mine hasn't achieved that full rounded form yet. This photo was in mid June. Because it has the smoky plumes of flowers, I am assuming it does not get cut back.

At Chanticleer at the very end of June there were smokebush shrubs ringing a parking lot. A parking lot! But how beautiful those wine and green upright forms were.

'Grace' has a particularly luminescent look to its young leaves that is changeable with the light and variable at different times of the season.

Where could I put 'Grace' that she would shine like these examples? Where would it matter less that cotinus is late to fill out in spring and grows so upright and big?

I can't dig this big smokebush up, and sawing it to the ground stimulates regrowth -- I'll have to figure out how to keep it from regrowing if I do cut it down and replace it.

Replace it ---- ideas?

Maybe a couple 'Ogon' spirea shrubs would be tall enough, full enough and pretty enough to do what I want, but would stay well below the level of the maple. 'Ogon' spirea flowers early, leafs out early, and then holds its leaves and color far into December. No empty seasonal gaps.

The one in Meadow's Edge is nice, even on a windy day in very early May, being blown about.

Those wavy flowering branches would offer some early screening at the top of the driveway, and 'Ogon' gets much larger; this one is still young.

I really like the idea of big billowy spireas with fine, narrow leaves in the spot at the top of the driveway. They would screen, they would be pretty, and they would work better with the paperbark maple.

Cotinus 'Grace' may have to be sacrificed in this spot.

Why is everything in my yard planted in the wrong place?

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