PLANT OF THE WEEK #17: Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

I’m guilty. I had my head turned and couldn’t resist. I spurned my first love and chose another. Now I realise my mistake and am desperate to make up for it.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, I want you back.

I gave her up for Sedum ‘Matrona’, a taller beauty who had many admirers. Matrona, Matrona … everywhere I turned, it seemed people were talking about Matrona. It made her more alluring.

Life was great at first. Matrona made herself at home and generously produced lots of offspring. But then they grew too tall, and their pink heads and plum-tinged limbs didn’t suit their surroundings. My feelings for them waned.

Autumn Joy, I came to realise, is the one for me.

I love the way she shifts through the seasons. From spring domes of fresh green foliage she eventually sends up spikes topped by broad heads of pale buds. When I saw my few plants of Autumn Joy looking splendid with Miscanthus and Calamagrostis this summer, it struck me how seriously I’d underrated her. The buds open to reveal soft pink flowers, and gradually their colour deepens to crimson in autumn. That’s her at her peak. But the pleasure you can derive from Autumn Joy begins months earlier.

Even now, in early winter, the low sun is lighting up her copper stems. New growth is gathering at her feet, little eyes gazing up into the cool light. And her flower heads, now bronze, continue to add interest. I’ll leave them standing for a while yet. 

I love that she’s just tall enough for me. At 70-80cm, she’s about 20cm shorter than Matrona. In the relatively small garden space on our quarter-acre block, I’m unwilling to devote the room to Matrona that she needs. Autumn Joy, on the other hand, fits perfectly.

I love how supportive she is of those around her. I intend to mix her more with grasses, Euphorbias, and Agastaches this year. Her stout foliage and flat flower tops will contrast with her neighbours’ verticality. I’ve seen, however, that in large drifts and formal settings she also works well.

Before then, though, I need to get her back. 

I love how easy Sedums are to propagate. Two clumps of Autumn Joy have been sacrificed from my winter scene. They’ve been chopped up and pulled apart, for the greater good.

I’m determined to make a proper go of it.


Richard Padgett is bringing to life his design for his garden in Woodend, Victoria. You can follow his progress on Instagram: @richard_creates

Discussion

  1. I agree that ‘Autumn Joy’ is my sedum of choice!

  2. Me too. AJ for me. I have also dabbled with Matrona, but have never really thought ‘Wow!’ when I look at her.

  3. Great post, Richard. I’m still smiling. Call me greedy, but I can accommodate both in my life and garden. You are right about Autumn Joy’s value into late Autumn and early Winter. Just a couple of weeks ago in my garden, the late afternoon sun was lightening up golden Miscanthus zebrinus and the tan flowers of Salvia africana lutea behind a clump of deep brown Autumn Joy flowers. One of life’s great, simple joys.

    1. Thanks very much, Annette. They’re both great in their own way. I’m learning to appreciate subtle plant variations, and what they mean for usage, even though I might have to rule some things out (like Matrona). Glad you’re enjoying them both!

  4. Matrona for me, those wonderful plum stems. However I would never be without both of them. Anywhere I toss the Chelsea choppings from Autumn Joy I end up with a new clump – so vigorous

    1. Gotta love how quick and easy it is to produce new Sedums – and via so many methods!

  5. Great article!! I find Matrona much more difficult to blend into a planting scheme. Autumn Joy is so much easier. I really like its early season forms – first the foliage and then the greeny pinky flower heads.

    1. Thanks, Tracey. With you on AJ’s early season value. I love the pale buds, they bring a welcome dose of freshness. For me, there’s a brief point in the pink stage when they’re neither pale enough nor red enough, but that moment does increase my anticipation of the deepening colour that follows.

  6. Definitely autumn joy – clients love it also – interesting thru seasons

  7. I have really tried to love Matrona but she won’t bulk up so I can make a big drift and really a drift of Autumn Joy just knocks your socks off! Being at home 24/7 since March means I have really noticed the way she changes colour and I loved it!

  8. Great read, Richard. While I appreciate both I too am an Autumn Joy lover. I find it’s more adaptable than Matrona, which I’ve always found flops about unless it gets exactly what it needs – proper, whacking full sun and a soil that leans towards the dry and skeletal.
    AJ I’ve always found to be more robust and reliably upright, even in slightly shaded areas. It’s always touted as a full sun plant but I’ve been testing its boundaries for years in ever increasing amounts of shade and its tolerance of some shade outperforms Matrona every time. A great plant. I’ve been asked by passers by on more than one occasion, ‘What’s the broccoli plant just there?,’ which never fails to make me chuckle.

  9. I loved Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ from minute one. In fact, me and my gardening friends had coveted her for years, looking at English garden books, and once she finally arrived here (somewhere about 1988, I’d reckon) she more than lived up to the hype. I was astonished, even in early spring garden openings, how many people were drawn to her early mounds of foliage, and wanted to know what they were looking at.
    Then, in 1999, I was speaking at what is now known as The Australian Landscape Conference, and mentioned that I thought AJ was the best, by far, of the tall sedums. The next day Dan Pearson spoke, and said that he thought ‘Matrona’ (which was yet to arrive here) was ‘the best, by far, of the taller Sedums’.
    Maybe that tainted my reception of her. Not sure.
    But from the start, I didn’t love that plummy-purple stained foliage. I find the colour useful when I’m working in that purple range, but I don’t – can’t – love it. I also find that its opposite, ladder-like leaves remind me of the worst of stodgy, purple stained, plastic-looking hebes. But now I’m just getting cruel.
    I don’t really love either of them when they first start to bloom – neither the baby pink of AJ, and the slightly worse, mauve-stained pink of Matrona. Thankfully both improve with age. But nothing beats that fabulous bricky red of AJ at its best (though I’ve yet to understand why it varies with the years, and what climatic conditions bring out the best ripening colour).
    Finally, there’s that difference in the flower form. I really like the lumpier, cumulus-cloud-like form that AJ explores more fully than Matrona. But what I’d love to add to the mix is a sedum of the flower colour of AJ, but the form of the old, totally flat-topped Sedum spectabile.

  10. Hi Richard – Nice article but not convinced although you have taken some lovely shots….I am sort of over Autumn Joy, not crazy about that tone of pink, leaves a bit yellow… have been moving some to more inconspicuous spots…I am much more interested in the dark purples Matrona is nice but there are so many on the Lambley site https://lambley.com.au/search/content/sedum that I really want to try – such as Sedum ‘Postman’s Pride’
    Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’ Sedum ‘Desert Black’ Sedum ‘Munstead Red’ Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ and more!! When I get around to investigating further and have replacements I will let you know in case you are still expanding your Autumn Joy collection…Deborah PS I will admit I do like the broccoli stage (as per your photo) and the current sort of deadish seedhead stage

  11. I agree ‘Autumn Joy’ is a joy – I am not as fond of her newer name though Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ uggh! ‘Matrona’ is behaving very badly for me too and I read in a comment to one of Michael’s posts a while back — a chap who cut back the sedums in spring once they were well up out of the ground – it thickens them. I might try this with ‘Matrona’ this year and see how she goes — or she might just get the flick.

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