Create a beautiful screen with this accent plant

Sharon Cohoon,  – October 6, 2005

Looking for a little extra oomph in your garden? Follow Monika Hellwegen’s lead and use ‘Royal Purple’ smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) as an accent plant among green grasses, shrubs, and trees. “It always adds drama,” says Hellwegen. The shrubby tree is showiest during a six-week period in summer when it displays the pinkish puffs that account for its common name. Created by fuzzy hairs that develop on elongated flower stalks, the “smoke” forms after tiny blooms wither and fall.

The deciduous plant is dramatic even without smoke, thanks to its large, rounded, plum-colored leaves, which hold their color through much of the summer. To get the most mileage out of their deep color and round shape, Hellwegen contrasts them with fine-textured green foliage (as shown above). But in summer, the plant is also pretty when paired with vibrant red-flowered geum ‘Mrs. Bradshaw,’ red or orange crocosmia, or yellow gloriosa daisy.

Smoke tree typically grows 12 to 15 feet tall and wide, but stays shorter (8-10 ft. tall) in colder climates. Naturally multistemmed, it can be trained as a small tree to show off by itself or at the back of a border. For best color, situate the plant in fast-draining soil in a spot that gets full sun; water moderately.