Stonecrops Rock

– Posted in: Garden Plants

Sedum rupestre 'Lemon Coral' with 'Ruby Ball' cabbage

When I first read Barbara’s choice for the GGW Plant Pick of the Month, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find many photos to share. Sedums – or stonecrops, as some know them – haven’t played a big part in my gardening experience over the years: not because I don’t like them, but because they didn’t much like my previous shady garden or my current silty and sometimes soggy one.

Sedum 'Purple Emperor' with Rosa glauca and Eupatorium maculatum 'Carin'

Sedum 'Purple Emperor' with Rosa glauca and Eupatorium 'Carin'

I’m disappointed about that, because sedums offer some terrific forms, textures, and foliage colors, and I greatly admire them in other people’s gardens. The first couple of years in this garden, I was so excited to finally have sun that I indulged in a number of species, hybrids, and cultivars, expecially of the upright types. My favorite of the bunch was ‘Purple Emperor’, with its purple-flushed gray leaves that were a perfect echo for the foliage of red-leaved rose (Rosa glauca). Unfortunately, it fizzled out after the second year and disappeared. ‘Black Jack’, ‘Matrona’, ‘Arthur Branch’, ‘Gooseberry Fool’, and many others met the same fate.

The only upright sedum I have left now is ‘Autumn Fire’. Honestly, I don’t see much difference between it and ‘Autumn Joy’ (‘Herbstfreude’); both of them can appear pinkish in some conditions and deep red in others, depending on the amount of sun, I guess, and the age of the blooms. I’m not going to complain about ‘Autumn Fire’, though, since it seems inclined to stick around. (Below left is ‘Autumn Joy’ with Salvia microphylla ‘Variegata’ and Geranium ‘Victor Reiter’; below right is ‘Autumn Fire’ with Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’.)


I really like the creeping sedums too, but mostly meet with an equal lack of success. They seem more forgiving than the uprights of the winter-wet conditions but get stringy-looking when shaded too much by bigger companions, and I haven’t had much luck figuring out how to place them effectively. I’m still trying, though, because they make great partners for fall-blooming bulbs, such as colchicums.

Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce' with Colchicum autumnale 'Album'

Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' with Colchicum speciosum

Ah, ‘Angelina’. I’m not sure what to make of her any more. It was love at first sight; such a pretty thing she is in a pot, and her cheery color brightened every spot I could find for her. Undaunted by winter’s cold, rain, and snow, she just blushed rosy red and kept on shining. She survived, and even thrived, in sites where lesser sedums had perished, and I was delighted to see her start to spread.

Sedum 'Angelina' with Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Sedum 'Angelina' with Zinnia 'Profusion Orange', Pennisetum glaucum 'Jester', and Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'

Sedum 'Angelina' with Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' and Caryopteris 'Jason'

Sedum 'Angelina' with Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' and Caryopteris 'Jason'

But then, oh then…she started getting a little too comfortable. One or two seedlings would have been fine, but I’m starting to find bits of ‘Angelina’ where she really doesn’t belong, to the point where she’s beginning to scare me a bit. And honestly, I could do without her blooming altogether. Do she really think yellow flowers look good with yellow foliage? I mean, I’m no fashionista, but even I can tell her that the combination isn’t very flattering. I’ve tried to save her that embarrassment by clipping off her blossoms, but then she makes those annoying little stubs that don’t look much better.

So now I’m reduced to plucking out her bloom stems individually to keep her looking her best, and it’s getting a little tiresome, though I’m not ready to give up on her completely. I do have my eye on a newer beauty, however, by the name of ‘Chocolate Ball’. It’s hard to find much information about it because it’s just recently been released, but it looked neat in the garden and in containers at work this past summer and fall.

The big question is how hardy it will be. Sometimes ‘Chocolate Ball’ is listed under S. hakonense, which most references indicate is frost-tender, but I’ve also heard that this one might be hardy to Zone 7. Yesterday, I took a quick peek at some of the plants we left in the ground at work (in mid-Zone 6, after some definitely below-freezing temperatures), and they still looked alive to me, so maybe they’ll be more cold-tolerant than predicted. After observing how ‘Angelina’ is inclined to spread, I’m almost hoping this one isn’t quite as hardy!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Sylvia (England) December 19, 2008, 7:21 am

I’m with you about the creeping sedums, I find them hard to place with other plants and I have had experiences of them taking over. There are none in my garden at present but I liked your Sedums and Colchicums – I may just give them another chance.

I can easily grow the upright ones and my current favourite is Frosty Morn.

Thank you for a lovely post with some interesting plant combinations. Best wishes Sylvia

‘Frosty Morn’ certainly is a beauty, and I’m happy to hear it has behaved well for you, Sylvia. I could barely keep up with pinching out the reverted growth on mine. I had the same problem with ‘Samuel Oliphant’ and ‘Pink Chablis’; they were either reduced to almost no top growth or, if left unpinched, were totally green by the end of the first season. Grrr.

Frances December 19, 2008, 7:45 am

Hi Nan, your garden photos are so inspiring, even if you are telling us how plants have failed to meet expectations. I agree about Purple Emperor and Black Jack, and we have about as good a drainage situation as possible here, they just have some sort of genetic flaw. I do wish Angelina would perform better here, she is fantastic in daughter Semi’s garden, at the base of a water downspout, maybe she likes more moisture than the others? You have me excited about Chocolate Ball, too, I will look for it!

It’s interesting to hear how ‘Angelina’ is performing for Semi. Here, she definitely looks best in the moister spots; in the few sun-baked, gravelly sites I have, she looks stressed. If only these darned plants would read the books so they know how they are *supposed* to behave.

Nancy Bond December 19, 2008, 8:27 am

All your sedum is beautiful! I especially love the shot with the pottery — the color combination of that dark plum with the lemony-green is gorgeous!

I agree, Nancy – the yellow of ‘Angelina’ with deep maroon, purple, and black is fantastic!

Ken from Sweden December 19, 2008, 8:44 am

Hi Nan
I just love your fotos!
The way you put different plants in different collors in a perfect mix…it is so beautiful!
I cant anderstand how you can get them all to look so great at the same time.
We wish you a very happy Christmas Nan


But you do know how I do it, Ken, because you’re a foliage lover too. When most of the color comes from leaves, it’s easy to make good combinations. Happy Christmas to you too!

Lisa at Greenbow December 19, 2008, 8:53 am

I have a hard time with sedums. Maybe it is not enough light. I do like their supposed carefree qualities. I guess they are carefree if they have perfect conditions. Like most other plants. Ha…

You said it, Lisa! It’s kind of humiliating to have poor luck with plants that are supposed to be indestructible.

Dave December 19, 2008, 10:05 am

You do have quite a few nice looking sedums despite the difficulties of your site. The Angelina mixed with the zinnias and pennisetum looks great as does the picture with the pitcher! Great ideas. I like the heuchera mixed with the Angelina.

Well, keep in mind that some of these images show the ghosts of gardens past. I imagine I’ll probably always have ‘Angelina’ around, if only because it’s hard to get rid of her. Piece of advice: Do *not* ever toss bits of her into your compost pile!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 19, 2008, 12:17 pm

I put Sedum kamtschaticum in between some rocks next to the patio, where it softens the edges wonderfully. I have to cut it back a couple of times a year, however, or it swamps the rocks completely. (They are fairly flat rocks.) That little Sedum also likes to seed about more than I would like.

I tried the variegated form and loved it for almost two years, but it too reverted quite a bit and then got shaded out. Sigh.

Jean December 19, 2008, 1:09 pm

You’ve inspired me to try some creeping sedums, even if they might be picky or weedy. To know that some of them like moist conditions means I can probably try them in one of my problem areas. And once again Nan, your photos and plant combinations are just gorgeous.

Thanks, Jean. Do give them a try; hopefully you’ll find some good spots for them in your garden.

Shady Gardener December 19, 2008, 1:14 pm

Hi Nan! I love sedum! Any shape or form! I have both Matrona and Purple Emperor. They have performed Very Well for me these past 6 years!! I will see what I can do to create a post in January. (!)

It’s good to hear sedum success stories like yours to balance out their less-than-stellar performance for some of us. I hope you do get a chance to write a post about your sedums. Barbara will do a wrap-up post for the December Plant Pick on January 9, so you still have time. Don’t forget to leave a link on her post so she can find you!

Gail December 20, 2008, 10:21 am

Hello Nan, First let me say…your garden combinations and photos are delicious! Angelina looks stellar with the deep purples and sweet lilacs! Like you I am very attracted to sedums and would love them in the garden, but we have wet and soggy winters and they just don’t seem happy! The most successful is Sedum Acre’ which has settled in many spots all over the neighborhood! The Autumn Joy is a light pink almost white colored flower in my garden! Certainly not the deep reds I hoped it would be! Nature likes to play tricks on us!


Yikes, Gail – that Sedum acre is aptly named, because it’ll easily take over an acre! (Well, maybe not a whole acre, but a good bit of space, anyway.) These plants certainly do like to challenge us, don’t they?

Blackswampgirl Kim December 21, 2008, 1:20 am

Nan, what beautiful pictures of ‘Angelina’! I’m a little worried now, though, because I tosssed her in a rather dry spot thinking that she would be a good groundcover there… hmmm. Maybe not so much–or maybe she just won’t get “too” comfortable there, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, necessarily, from your description!

‘Purple Emporer’ has been just okay for me, too–I think it might not get quite enough moisture, and is a little small. ‘Matrona’ is a bush of a plant, though… you know how I dislike her soft pink flowers on first blush, but I adore her browned pink flowerheads in later fall.

The groundcover sedums, I can’t seem to get enough of. Sedum ‘Chubby Fingers’ is a mannerly spreader in a few different places and tolerated a good amount of shade for me at the old house. ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Fuldaglut’ are probably a little too happy in a few spots, but I love them anyway… ‘Blue Spruce’ is brand new for me, but s. hispanicum spread just a small amount last year in my lock garden.

My two favorites that are so easy to grow, and easily overlooked by gardeners for some reason, are s. cauticola ‘Lidakense’ (although I can’t really tell the difference between the cultivar and plants sold as the species, most of the time) and sedum sieboldii, the October daphne. I grew both at my old house in fairly wet, clay soil (albeit in a raised bed) and have them here in my dry sandy garden, too. Such workhorses.

I couldn’t resist picking up a ‘Lemon Coral’ at the garden center on clearance this year. Currently, it’s softening the edges of a potted phormium on my stair landing… but I was thinking about potting it outside to see how it grows. Is the ‘Lemon Coral’ you show in the first pic planted outside at your place? It says zone 7 or 8 on the tag, but it looks so much like ‘Angelina’ I thought I’d take a chance…

Thanks so much for sharing your sedum experiences, Kim. It will be interesting to see how ‘Angelina’ performs for you. The ‘Lemon Coral’ in the photo was planted in an urn at work. Come to think of it, it may be in a pot in our greenhouse now; it wasn’t labeled, and I assumed it was ‘Angelina’ because it looks so similar. During the growing season, ‘Lemon Coral’ seemed a bit clearer yellow and a bit looser than ‘Angelina’ but not all that much different. I thought ‘Lemon Coral’ was supposed to be equally hardy. I hope you’ll report back in the spring to let us know if it survived for you.

Angela (Cottage Magpie) December 24, 2008, 2:16 am

I love sedums. I think most people would say they’re not very “cottage,” but I use them all the time for lots of things. Unfortunately I (a) don’t know the names of many of the ones in my garden, being mostly passalongs, and (b) they are currently under 2 feet of snow. Which is weird for Oregon, so I wasn’t really prepared for it! But maybe I’ll post some pictures in a week or so. Thank you for reminding me about these great plants.

Anyway, I just stopped by to say Merry Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!
~Angela 🙂

Merry Christmas to you too, Angela! Oh sure, sedums can be cottagey, can’t they? I’m sure yours are a bit surprised by their snowy coating, but better that than the ice we’ve had out here in PA, I suspect. I hope you get some melting soon.

Pam/Digging December 25, 2008, 1:26 am

I only wish ‘Angelina’ would perform for me as well as she has for you. Well, maybe not that well, as you point out. But I killed her in a dry, sunny, gravelly spot. Maybe if I can place it somewhere wetter…

Also, I’ve killed Autumn Joy whenever I’ve tried it, alas.

Under Austin’s searing summer sun, sedums need mid-day protection, and perhaps more water than I’d realized.

Actually, Pam, I’ve noticed that ‘Angelina’ can look really stressed even here in PA in dry, sun-baked spots: She gets shriveled and stringy-looking and turns an icky shade of yellowish green. She’s definitely plumper and prettier for me in a site with afternoon shade, or with evenly moist soil.

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