I have a love/hate relationship with Sedum spectabile. My wife, a schoolteacher, simply cannot abide the stuff. It always seems to come into flower just as the school term starts in September, and so its connotations for her – and perhaps other teachers – are all to do with the end of the summer holidays, and the start of the long haul to Christmas.
On the other hand, I love it for its late summer display, and even more for its function as a bee-magnet in those days when other flowers are fading fast. But I am also unhappy that it is so very much associated with the ending of the season, and represents a last burst from the herbaceous borders before everything collapses. Not that Sedum ever wilts, its strong and fleshy stems stand firm against autumn rains and first frosts, even when the flower heads have long since turned from deep pink to a murky brown. Those flower heads can hold a prodigious amount of water too, as I know to my cost – cutting them back after a few days of rain gives the gardener an impromptu shower. It does also flop outwards from its centre, and is thus a strong candidate for a May (‘Chelsea’) chop to encourage shorter flowering stems later in the summer.
Anyhow, I have spent many an hour over the past couple of weeks cutting it back at The Manor, where there are masses and masses of it. And just now I have been doing the same in my own garden, albeit on a far more domestic scale (at least I am allowed to have some at home).
Sedum spectabile in full flower on 3rd September, just as the school term started (of course). I counted over 70 bees – and this is one of dozens of plants in the garden.
Is it just me, or is there something slightly irritating about being asked ‘have you been working?’ by folk you meet at the end of the day…? My hands are dirty, my clothes covered in a rime of grass clippings, earth and burs. Is this not some kind of clue? Similarly, gardening – yes, gardening – is actually my job, the thing I do to earn money.
The other annoying thing at this time of year is the assumption made by many folk of my acquaintance that – my wife being a teacher, and my children both of school age – I too take 6 weeks off in the summer. In fact the summer holiday is a very busy time. Yes, I take a fortnight off for our annual family holiday (it has to be during the school holidays because three of the four of us have no option) – but the rest of the time – all of August usually – I am working harder than ever. Not having to do school drops and pick-ups gives me rather more flexibility about time than I have the rest of the year. Furthermore, August is a month with plenty to do – grass (and weeds) are still enthusiastically growing – but at the same time, the shades of autumn are already gathering and bringing deadheading and cutting-back in their train.
Enough grumbling. All is well. I have acquired a new client who wants me to work a full day each week, throughout the year. How nice to meet someone who recognises that gardening doesn’t stop when the clocks change in October – and that gardeners have to eat all winter long. And it promises to be a great job, developing and enhancing an existing mature garden to make it more interesting and colourful all year round.
Sedum spectabile is my plant of the moment. Mrs Gardener is not keen, as it always flowers just as the summer holiday ends and she has to return to the classroom. Nevertheless, we have several in our garden at home – and The Manor has lots throughout the herbaceous borders. I counted over 70 bees on one plant the other day, and it was not even fully flowering. It’s a wonderful plant at this time of year – a real ‘last hurrah’ in the perennial border.