Rural Prairie gardeners – and many town ones as well – want perennials which are tough, durable and relatively low maintenance. Time is at a premium in many homes and so perennial flowers have to be able, for the most part, to look after themselves during the growing season without a lot of coddling. One such plant family that fits this description perfectly is the sedum family which is made up of many hundreds of plants that all have similar characteristics.
Sedums are popular plants due to their toughness and resilience. They are very drought tolerant, are completely hardy and will take a lot of neglect, and look good in the garden all season long. Sedums are actually members of the stonecrop genus which has over 400 members and most are succulent perennials with fleshy leaves which enable them to store water which gives them their drought tolerance. Sedums (also commonly called stonecrops) are easily propagated by division.
Although most sedums prefer full sun, I have some that are in part shade and they seem to perform satisfactorily, although they do tend to be somewhat taller and do not produce as much bloom as they would if exposed to full sun. They like well-drained soil, but they do not seem to be particularly fussy about soil type, and indeed many sedums grow on rocky outcroppings in the wilds of North America.
Sedums are sought after as much for their fascinating foliage as for their attractive flowers. One 30-cm-tall variety called S. Rhodiola rosea, which I have in my garden, produces yellow blooms on the ends of its stems in June. After the blooms fade I snip off the spent flowers and the clump of blue-green foliage with its saw-toothed edges looks attractive all summer. Many of the mat-forming stonecrops bloom in July; some have yellow flowers while others, such as S. “Dragon’s Blood” have pink/ wine flowers. A number have colourful variegated foliage.
Another sedum in my garden – unnamed because I picked it up at a local plant sale – has small leaves and only gets a few centimetres tall, but it produces bright-yellow flowers in July and August. I use it between stepping stones in a path in the garden, but many of the shorter sedums also can be used as ground covers. Sedums also are ideal plants to use in a Southwest-style landscape.
Not all sedums bloom in the early summer; some bloom in the autumn and add welcome colour to the fall garden. One of these fall bloomers is the 25-cm-tall “October Daphne” which has steel-blue scalloped foliage and produces clusters of small pink flowers in late August. This plant makes a nice edging for a border, but it also can be used in clumps towards the front of a mixed border as the silver-blue foliage is attractive all season long. Stonecrops and sedums often are used as edging plants around the perimeters of perennial borders.
Taller sedums such as S. “Autumn Joy” serve as focal points in the autumn garden. These varieties are called “showy stonecrops” and indeed they are aptly named. They begin to produce large clusters of bloom atop their succulent foliage in midsummer and although the buds initially look somewhat like heads of pale-green broccoli, gradually as fall approaches the green flower heads turn pink and the flowers open – tiny florets in tight clusters. By late fall the flowers turn an attractive cinnamon colour.
S. “Autumn Joy” has green leaves and pink flowers, S. “Vera Jameson” has burgundy foliage and mauve flowers, but there is even a variety called S. “Frosty Morn,” which has variegated foliage and bright-pink flowers. These taller sedums are often used singly as focal points or specimens while the mat-forming stonecrops are used as ground covers. Sedums are also useful in rock gardens, in mass plantings and even in containers. Perhaps you will experiment with some of these versatile and hardy plants in your garden.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba