I am not usually an admirer of purple-leaved trees and shrubs, which look alien in a green country, but the Venetian sumach or smoke tree in the variety ‘Royal Purple’ makes such a good background to border, especially white ones, that it is an exception.
A large, rounded, deciduous shrub growing to 8 feet (2.4 m) or more, it is a bushy mass of dark purpleall through the summer, changing to light red in autumn. The leaves are an unusual shape, being almost circular. In midsummer, large feathery plumes of tiny purple burst from the bush like puffs of smoke, and turn grey before they fade. The ‘Royal Purple’ variety enhances the whiteness of roses, lilies, delphiniums, mallows and other tall border plants, though pale pinks and blues also look well against the sombre background. There could be silver plants, like Santolina in-cana, in the foreground.
The species, C. coggygria, has green leaves and stronger autumn colour, and is recommended by the famous gardening author, Christopher Lloyd, as a specimen for a lawn, The flowers turn pink in late summer, and he says that the sparkle of dew on the pink blossom in early morning is a great gardening experience.
Plant Cotinus in poorish soil, and if you site it at the back of a mixed border, keep manure well away from your shrub.