Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mama's Sedum

If we searched, I think most gardeners could trace the roots of their love of gardening to some family or acquaintance, or, as in my case, find their lineage back to generations of gardeners (both sets of my grandparents were farmers as were, respectively, their parents).

But many of us also have plants that we can trace to other family members.  My maternal grandmother, whom we called "Mamaw," would not really have thought of herself as a gardener, since most of the gardening she did was in the process of raising food in the vegetable garden and preserving it for use throughout the year.  She did however, out the back door of the farmhouse, have a small 8'X10' plot containing, as I recall, some portulaca, a species of yellow and pink columbines, some "hens and chicks" and a tall sedum. 

Mamaw's Sedum
Sometime after I started gardening at our first home, and before Mamaw passed on shortly after that, I got a start of the columbines and sedum from her and when we moved to our current home, I transplanted them again.  Currently, the sedums, along with some goldenrod, provide the fall flowering and foliage in a bed that is composed primarily of peonies long past their prime.  They do this year after year, without any care or extra water at all, and they suffer neither from insect pest nor fungal disease.  They're not called "live-forevers" by coincidence!  In fact, looking at the list of what Mamaw grew for enjoyment, all of them are low-maintenance, low-water survival plants that don't take time away from the more important business of putting food on the table. The columbines are the same easy care plants for me as the sedums are, popping up here and there with wild abandon in my garden, but it is the sedum I associate, for some reason, with my grandmother.      

I don't know what exact species or cultivar of sedum I inherited from my grandmother.  I thought for awhile that they were simply the ubiquitous 'Autumn Joy', but I've seen the two side by side and Mamaw's sedum is a little more pink-purple and fades to a duller brown than the currently commercial 'Autumn Joy'.  It doesn't really matter.  I very much enjoy other more modern sedum cultivars and I grow, for instance, Mohrchen and 'Vera Jameson' and 'Frosty Morn and Matrona, but some stay small and sprawl and others get big and sprawl (unless cut back severely in August or grown through supports), unlike my inherited sedum who stands tall and stays vertical without support at the end of the season.

I've lost the chance to listen more to the wisdom of my grandmother, but I can still enjoy her plants.  And maybe, just maybe, she's still teaching me that it's not flashy new appearance, but long-term staying power that is the most important criteria to keep us going in gardening and in life.


  1. You and I have the same sedum! Mine came as a passalong plant from a friend of my mother. I have always thought it to be Sedum spectabile.

  2. It could indeed be the species S. telephinum. If it is, it has some good qualities, even aside from the sentimental aspects.

  3. What a wonderful memory evoker to have! My grandmother was also a gardener, but she gardened in Tucson, Arizona, when I knew her and I never got any plants from her.

    That said, I did get to share in her enthusiasm for birds and wildflowers during our rare visits, and I'm sure that her excitement and knowledge helped fuel my own "budding" interest!


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