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irregular times logoOn Sedum:
Thoughts around the edges

My wife asks me to come to bed, and I tell her that I just need to write down some thoughts I have had about sedum.

"Oh," she says.

"Do you know what sedum is?" I respond.


"It's a plant."

"I figured."

"How did you figure that if you didn't know what sedum is?" I ask her.

"It starts with 'seed'. Seed 'em. Sounds like a plant."

Seedum, I mean sedum, is a succulent, not in the sense that really good food can be called succulent, but in the sense that its leaves are designed to keep water inside the plant. They have thick waxy leaves, like those of jade plants, lobes that grow in whorls along long stems.

As I look at the above paragraph, I realize that sedums inspire many commas.

Because sedums are succulent, they don't dry out quickly. They're tough, so tough that they will grow for a long while even if they are laying out of contact with soil. Sedums are, for this reason, very easy to propagate. Just take a healthy length of stem, break it off and bury half of it in some soil and you'll more than likely get a new plant to grow, from which you can make additional breakaway children, if you like.

There are some large sedums, like Autumn Joy, which grows straight up and gets to be about a foot tall, offering prominent flowers late in summer that dry and remain in some form of color until they are crushed by deep snow.

Most sedums, however, grow more as groundcovers, with smaller leaves on thinner stems with tiny flowers. The color on these sedums comes from the collection of leaves and flowers, not from individual pieces on show. Greens, reds, blues, silvers and grey leaves are available, in an interesting variety of textures. Even some of the littlest sedums have their place, providing a much more interesting downdrop for bigger plants than the awful cedar chip mulching that seems so popular in the new big mansion suburban neighborhoods these days.

In the paragraph above, I wanted to call those neighborhoods nouveau faux riche, but then I realized that the gender of riche doesn't agree with either nouveau or faux, and I got confused about the French very quickly. What do the French call sedum, and do they look down their noses at Americans who grow it? I have a sense that there are some very refined sedums outside Versailles, but that most French families grow a more bawdy David Hasselhoff form of large leafed sedum in their home gardens.

The absolute best use of sedum in the garden is amongst rocks - in walls or in walkways. Sedum easily grows in the cracks between stones - in fact, one of the common names for sedum is stonecrop - and withstands the brutality of foot traffic.

What is the difference between a stone and rock? A stone is a rock that we feel better talking about to the neighbors, I think.

Now, sedum can also grow in the cracks between great slabs of cement on dull suburban patios, but in such circumstances, the fluid nature of sedum's growth is lost. I know a woman who has a perfectly nice little green-leafed, yellow-flowered sedum that grows in the seams between the cement sidewalk leading out to her swimming pool, and it looks as weedy as out-of-place grass. The problem is that with big cement patios, the lines are all straight, so the sedum only highlights the boredom of the outside design.

In a walkway or wall built with stone, the irregular patterns interest the eyes and sedum highlights this seductive, almost natural irregularity. The effect does not work with the all-too-popular cement blocks that are supposed to simulate the effect of a rock wall when stacked up together in a line.

So it seems that sedum reflects the mind of the gardener, for good or for ill, by revealing the otherwise forgotten structures that form the stage upon which bigger and showier plants do their bit. So beware before planting sedum: Make sure that you know your own gardening mind, and make sure that you are ready to bring out the skeletons of your inner vision and display them to visitors.

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