Smoke bush

Smoke bushes are spectacular plants. The great spume or smoke is caused by the cloud-like panicles of flowers. During Autumn the foliage burns yellow, orange and red. The purple leaved cultivars have the added bonus of foliage contrast throughout the year from spring until autumn. During winter their bare purple stems are fascinating in themselves. Smoke bushes belong to the Anacardiacaeae or cashew family.

Peter Teese’s Yamina Rare Plants has a great range of different plants and you might find the description of the different varieties interesting on David Glenn’s Lambley Nursery web site.

They all grow happily in full sun and are broad shrubs that grow as wide as they are tall if you let them. They can be trained up as small trees with careful pruning. I use them in designs for their reliability, foliage colour and seasonal interest.They seem at home in a wide variety of soil types and can cope with little extra water in the summer. Having said that, I have no experience of growing them on truly sandy soils. The three cultivars below are the best in my view for purple foliage. There are other varieties that have green or golden foliage. All varieties have good autumn colour.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ 4 x 4 metres

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ 4 x 4 metres

Cotinus ‘Grace’ is a cross between C. obovatus and C.c. ‘Velvet Cloak’ , which is a bit unruly in that its long canes flop about a bit. It can grow up to 8 metres tall with a spreading habit.

Native Frangipani

There has been such a great broadening of species that are used as street trees in Melbourne. One of the best of the ‘newer’ types is the native frangipani, which has also become a mainstay of home gardens. A member of the Pittosporaceae, Hymenospermum flavum shares the characteristic glossy green leaves and highly scented flowers with other members of the pittosporum family. However it exceeds most in pure spectacle. During November and early December across the city beacons of gold are illuminating streetscapes and even dingy courtyards. One of the great attributes of this plant is being able to grow in relatively shady places (they hail from the rainforests of northern Australia) as well as in full sun and their upright growth means they can be used in confined spots (although they are still trees and their roots might not be so benign). They grow tall (up to 10 metres in cultivation).

Elephant’s Ears

This is one of those old fashioned plants that have been lurking in the background of gardens throughout the suburbs and the less frosty areas of the country for years. Alocasia macrorrhiza is a magnificent foliage plant that can cope with quite a lot of shade and has no problem with the heavy clay soils of Brunswick and surrounds. They are a great ‘middle storey’ plant for smaller gardens, because beneath their great leaves, ferns, bromeliads and carpets of native violets can thrive.