Smokebush (Cotinus) is one of the great all-time garden plants, IMO. Easy to grow, hardy (to Zone 4), and gorgeous. The plume-like blooms look great from spring, when they emerge, through much of summer. And the foliage is dynamite. This is purple smokebush (Monrovia’s Royal Purple), which as you can see, has great dark foliage. There’s a chartreuse version as well — Golden Spirit — in addition to more conventional green types.
Other plants come in these light/dark pairs too, which I love to combine for foliage contrast. Garden Debut’s Burgundy Hearts and Rising Sun redbuds, or Spring Meadow’s Black Lace and Sutherland Gold elderberries (Sambucus), are two examples.
This time of year Midwesterners can only dream about gardening. This year my dreams are turning to roses. A few short years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. I thought that roses were too “fussy” and pest-prone. I didn’t want to bother with them.
Perhaps those prejudices stem from my days in grad school working with and researching greenhouse rose rejuvenation. Those roses constantly needed care to remain attractive and productive, not to mention daily data collection! Or perhaps the impression comes from watching my Aunt Opal toil over her gorgeous hybrid tea roses when I was a kid. Because we lived in Minnesota, those tea roses required exceptional winter protection just to survive the rigors of the climate. (Aunt Opal was known for her gardening skills, and when I started to write a regional gardening column, people often mistakenly thought that she was my mother.)
I’ve done an about-face when it comes to landscape roses. With hardy, disease-free introductions such as the Easy Elegance Series, Knock Out Series, and OSO Easy Proven Winners roses, these colorful, fragrant flowers are taking increased prominence in my yard.
Last fall I fell in love with Belinda’s Dream, pictured at left, while on a press tour to Antique Rose Emporium. It’s fragrant, very double, and reblooms throughout the growing season with attractive pink blossoms. It’s won an Earth-Kind designation from Texas A&M University, meaning that it has outstanding pest tolerance as well as superior landscape performance. After seeing it in the display gardens at Antique Rose Emporium, I noticed that Belinda’s Dream was also featured at Lillian Farms, the B&B where I was staying. That sealed it for me. I knew I must give it a try in my own Zone 5 garden. I’ve already ordered three of them for spring delivery. I’m sure that Aunt Opal would be delighted to see them in my garden if she were still with us.