Sedum caeruleum
Sedum caeruleum

So, I’m getting close to the end of the alphabet and thinking about if and how I should follow up my current ‘A-Z’ series with another- what do you think? Any ideas? Maybe trees or shrubs? Or perhaps bulbs? Let me have your ideas!

S caused me a moment of uncertainty. I thought, it has to be Salvia, then I thought, Sedum is obvious as many are at (or close to) their best at this time of year, and I do love the larger forms which add so much to the garden with their chunky, glaucous foliage and shields of flowers, especially in autumn and on into winter as the flowers fade and their strong shapes give structure to the ‘close season’ border.

Sedum (common name ‘Stonecrop’) is a wide genus of some 400 species, encompassing annuals, biennials, deciduous, semi evergreen and evergreen perennials, subshrubs and shrubs- from both hemispheres! What you might call a botanical success story!

Their habitats in the wild vary from mountainous areas (where most come from), to arid regions of South America. As a result, they vary widely from dwarf, rock garden plants (the predominant type) to fairly  tall plants, very suitable for beds and borders. Some of the smaller species can be quite invasive. Sedums prefer sun, but some will tolerate light shade. They are drought tolerant, and prefer light, well-drained soils. The border types  will grow in almost all soil types, but do become rather lush and need to be staked if grown in over fertile conditions.

The foliage of ‘stonecrops’ is usually thick, fleshy and succulent, although the arrangement of the leaves varies. Individual flowers appear in summer and autumn, are mostly 5 – petalled and star shaped, and are borne in a range of different forms: corymbs, panicles or cymes.

Butterflies love the flowers- especially Sedum spectabile. The green buds on this species look good from midsummer, then colour pink into autumn. Stems are succulent and frosted, hence the common name “ice plant”. Unfortunately slugs and snails are fond of the leaves . All parts of the plant are poisonous, and contact with the sap may cause skin irritation.

Smaller, rock garden types are used extensively in ‘green roofs’. The ever popular Sedum spectabile ‘Herbstfreude’ (also know as ‘Autumn Joy’) goes well with many other autumn flowering herbaceous plants such as Michaelmas Daisies (Asters) and some of the shorter grasses such as Stipa tennuissima (‘Pony Tail’ grass). Carefully chosen cultivars of Japanese anemones, penstemons and phlox will also look good with them. They can also be used to good effect massed below a sun baked wall or hedge where other things might struggle, perhaps intermingled with spring bulbs and backed by early – mid summer ‘floppers’ like Perovskia (‘Russian Sage’). Leave the faded flower heads on over winter for some interesting garden shapes, especially after a ‘hoar’ frost.

Further information:

Sedum spectabile

Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’- BBC

Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’

Herbaceous Sedums- trials and awards by RHS (pdf)

Living sedum roofs

Sedum photos

Sedum Society

Old Schoool Gardener