Grow a sea­sonal chameleon Find out why se­dums are the colour­shifters of the au­tumn gar­den

Se­dums might have a new botan­i­cal name but these colour-shift­ing gar­den stal­warts are as reliable as ever. Val Bourne picks her favourites

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

When sum­mer turns to au­tumn, parts of the gar­den can look weary and dry. This is when taller, bor­der se­dums (with their new botan­i­cal name of hy­lotele­phium) score, be­cause their suc­cu­lent fo­liage car­ries its own per­sonal water sup­ply. They’re the Doris Days of the plant world, neat and crisp from dawn to dusk, and they bask in heat. Their flat­topped heads of starry flow­ers, which are per­fect land­ing stages for but­ter­flies and bees, last for many weeks be­fore turn­ing to shades of cof­fee and choco­late. Cut them back and they rise again in early spring, their lit­tle rosettes push­ing through the ground be­fore any­thing else. In re­cent years we’ve had many more of these se­duc­tive plants, but most have ar­rived as seedlings be­cause tiny starry se­dum flow­ers are dif­fi­cult things to cross-pol­li­nate, un­less you’re a bee or but­ter­fly. New ones have been spot­ted by sharp-eyed nurs­ery­men at­tracted by their fo­liage. The 1950s ice plant ‘Herb­st­freude’ (syn ‘Au­tumn Joy’) with its bright green fo­liage and bright pink flow­ers, has been su­per­seded by duskier ones with al­most sooty fo­liage.

These new­com­ers are grown for their sul­try colour­ing, with much red­der f low­ers. One of the very best is ‘Pur­ple Em­peror’, spot­ted as a seedling by Graham Gough of Marchant’s Plants in his par­ents’ gar­den in the mid-1990s. The neatly crimped pur­ple fo­liage is pleas­ingly dark from the off, which is un­usual be­cause many of the darker-leaved se­dums only colour up to beet­root-red in high sum­mer. Gar­den de­sign­ers of­ten opt for the al­most-black fo­liage of ‘José Aubergine’. This up­right se­dum has strong stems topped with pink-red f low­ers ar­ranged in a loose dome. It isn’t chunky though, be­cause you can see the dark stems and nar­row-toothed leaves be­low the f low­ers. Plant three to form an in­fu­sion of black among sil­ver fo­liage, or use it with cheer­ful pink echi­naceas. The best tall se­dum for prairie plant­ing is a greyer-leaved, beefy one called ‘Ma­trona’.

It’s ex­tremely up­right and there’s a tinge of pink that re­minds me of a pi­geon’s breast or an oil-streaked pud­dle. The dusky pink and cream flow­ers age to choco­late so it fades beau­ti­fully. There are also low-grow­ing, pros­trate forms of se­dum, which make good edg­ings for sunny po­si­tions, used with dainty pinks or diminu­tive hardy gera­ni­ums such as ‘Mavis Simp­son’. Dark-leaved forms in­clude ‘Vera Jame­son’ and ‘Ber­tram An­der­son’.

Flat-topped heads of starry flow­ers are per­fect land­ing stages for but­ter­flies

OR­ANGE & PINK The al­most-black fo­liage and pink-red flow­ers of ‘José Aubergine’ make a bold con­trast against or­ange cro­cos­mia

Go sul­try with dusky pink and cream ‘Ma­trona’ or keep it light with ‘Frosted Fire’ (pic­tured left)

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