Autumn joy

Late-blooming sedum brightens an unthirsty border
Colleen Smith

When conditions are rugged, plants must be tough. Such is the case on this steep hillside in a backyard in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. The south-facing slope gets blasted by sun most of the day, and the high cost of water means that irrigation must be kept to a minimum. So landscape architect Herb Schaal selected shrubs and perennials he knew could tolerate the difficult site. The planting that flanks a stairway made of dry-stacked sandstone slabs combines a rich color palette of blue, gray, bronze, and orange with interesting textures and shapes.

For much of the season, the focus is on feathery, blue-green 'Hughes' juniper and silver-leafed snow-in-summer. Then in late summer or early fall, the real show begins when the 1- to 1½-foot-tall, dome-shaped heads of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' burst into bloom, displaying dozens of starry pink flowers. As the season progresses, their color changes dramatically ― from pink to coppery pink to rusty orange; it shows off especially well against blue-green or gray foliage. Even when dormant in winter, the dried flower heads add interest to the garden. The striking arrangement survives on only ½ inch of irrigation water per week.

Design: Herb Schaal, EDAW, Fort Collins, CO (970/484-6073)