Sedum spectabile brings Autumn Joy: colour, bees and butterflies

First published by Rattan Direct on 9 October 2016.

The ice plant, Sedum spectabile, is a magnet in autumn for beautiful and beneficial insects like red admiral butterflies and bees. I like the variety ‘Autumn Joy’, a wonderful rose pink in colour.

My garden plans went awry

Today we are looking at the wonderful Sedum spectabile, sometimes called showy stonecrop, ice plant or butterfly stonecrop.*

Once upon a time, I had a plan to edge a border with Sedum spectabile. Specifically ‘Autumn Joy’. The reason was that I wanted to attract bees and butterflies to my garden (and I still do) and it’s an excellent and attractive plant for this. It has light green leaves and starry flowers which open from greenish-pink buds, and change rapidly from pale to deep rose.

S. spectabile Autumn Joy's green, then pink buds. Autumn Joy
S. spectabile Autumn Joy’s green, then pink buds

I started well but Life had other plans, as so often seems to happen, and the border had to drop down the priority list for quite some time. ‘Autumn Joy’ became pushed out by other, more thuggish plants. Bear’s breeches, Acanthus mollis, I’m looking at you.

Happily, things have changed again and the spectacular spectabile (it means ‘showy’) border is once more on the cards. A few ‘Autumn Joy’ plants have survived in that area of the garden and they are a magnet for insects. These are insects of the beautiful and beneficial kind like red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies which lift the spirits in the autumn, and industrious bees going about their business.

Small tortoiseshell on ice plant, near Biddulph, Staffordshire. Autumn Joy
Small tortoiseshell on ice plant, near Biddulph, Staffordshire
© Seo Mise and published under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0.

Oh no!

This summer I’ve been quite virtuous in mowing the lawn. I have a push mower without a grass box and using it can be a good workout in itself. And then I have to rake up the clippings with a spring-tine rake. I have one word to say to you: abs.

It’s hard work, especially if the grass has grown long, as it loves to do when the weather is s wet and warm. Anyway, one day I was pushing away with the mower in a particularly difficult area of lawn and found, oh no!, that I’d knocked off a chunk of ‘Autumn Joy’. Even more upsetting was that I realised that, this year, I seem to have far fewer AJ plants than I used to, once upon a time.

Grow new ‘Autumn Joy’ plants – it’s easy

To cut a long story short, the cloud had a silver lining. I used the broken-off piece of plant as a cutting. All I did was:

  • tidy it up a bit by cutting the end off neatly and cutting off the lower leaves
  • put it in a pot of some gritty compost
  • placed it in the cold frame in the garden.

(Do not think that the cold frame is a magnificent piece of garden equipment because it isn’t. It’s a fairly pleasant box which used to be a kitchen cabinet. It has glass doors which fit nicely over the top in cooler weather, perched on battens of wood to allow ventilation.)

The cutting ‘struck’, as we gardeners say. That means it rooted well. And it has gone on to grow well. I potted it on into a larger pot and now it’s flowering like mad. Why haven’t you planted it out in the border, I hear you ask. Because that border hasn’t been sorted out yet…  Pressure of work, other responsibilities, this and that. But it will get done and the border will eventually be my dream edged with S. spectabile from one end to the other, struck from cuttings by me. And butterflies and bees will flock to it.

S. spectabile 'Brilliant'. Autumn Joy
S. spectabile ‘Brilliant’
By Rob Hille. Public domain

* Old friend Sedum spectabile has been reclassified and renamed recently although its old name lives on. It now sometimes flies under the name of Hylotelephium spectabile, but it’s still a member of the stonecrop family and it still brings autumn joy to all who know it.

Yet more about the excellence of this herbaceous perennial here.

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