If you’re looking for two shrubs with highly contrasting foliage and blooms, it would seem they don’t get much more opposite than a Smokebush (cotinus coggygria) and a hydrangea. (This one is Twist ‘n’ Shout.)
Yet a closer look reveals that these two shrubs have more similarities than differences. Both are low-maintenance and have long-lasting blooms that slowly morph to attractive but much darker blooms.
Both shrubs also have clean, attractive foliage all summer long and into the fall season.What I both love and find frustrating about the Smokebush, though, is the visual weight of all those dark, almost sinister leaves in a garden bed. You must be prepared for the Smokebush to steal the show. I receive more queries about my Smokebush from non-gardeners than any other plant in my gardens and heard loud squawks of dismay when I severely cut it back two years ago and it didn’t bloom. The foliage, however, was gorgeous. The great thing about a Smokebush is that you can cut them back severely every year and enjoy just the deep purple leaves, if you wish. I compromise and prune it hard every three years or so to keep it within its allotted space and then enjoy the fluffy blooms the following years.
Although their foliage is lush and sharply cut, a hydrangea is low-key by comparison. Hydrangeas pair more easily with other plants that will accept partial shade and come in an ever increasing variety of sizes to fit your space. Hydrangeas do attract the eye when in full bloom but don’t dominate the way a Smokebush does . . . just so you know before you grow!