Sedums to the rescue. If you’ve a sunny, dry, thin and shallow patch of ground, sedum’s for you.

The display of leaves starts in spring. Oval and toothed, many are dark red, purplish black or very pale green. Although some sedums flower in summer, lots do the job for us just now, when there are fewer flowers to brighten up the garden.

Even the low-growing sedums that start flowering a bit earlier do so over a long period, producing new blooms over several weeks.

While we enjoy this autumn colour, it’s utterly indispensable to insects daring to emerge from shelter after a gale. Look at the plants just now. They’re plastered with bumblebees and the thousands of butterflies brought north by the recent warm southerlies. The dense pinkish-white flowerheads of S. spectabile are 15cm wide and open-topped, making it easy to extract that vital nectar.

Fleshy succulent leaves have a jelly-like substance used to store water. So last year, when an entire bed struggled to survive the drought, sedums nonchalantly strode on.

This drought tolerance also lets sedums withstand very low temperatures: Sedum ‘Matrona’ can even handle -20C. But more than many other plants, they’ll simply rot in wet soil. If planting in the rain shadow of a wall, make sure there isn’t any dripping water that could cause rotting.

I’m very grateful to my Matrona plants that lap up the sun in a bed near the front door. And spectabilie ‘Frosty Dawn’ is happy in only 3 or 4 inches of soil, producing delightful flowers with a white frost-like flush.

Some sedums are happy with even less soil. Scottish natives like Sedum acre and Sedum anglicum clamber over rocks, hence their name Stonecrop. They make a cheering sight on a dyke or the very dry edges of a bed. ‘Dragon’s Blood’ is a cracker in my rockery.

If you do grow autumn flowering species in a rich bed, which I assuredly don’t, you’ll have a weak flabby plant and will have to cut back the early flush of leaves in May to encourage stronger growth.

I must ask you to bear with me as I stray into the world of botanical geekery. It will be helpful when you decide which sedums to buy. Taxonomists are in the throes of reclassifying sedums, thereby naming some differently.

Sedums are described as highly polyphyletic. This means that, though they have all been grouped together till now, they do not share a common ancestor, so some of them are not really closely related at all.

Although this is significant for taxonomists, many of us may think they’re like angels dancing on the head of a pin. It doesn’t affect the appeal of sedums to us or to needy bumblebees, but does mean their names are changing. Our native Orpine, Sedum telephium, is now called Hylotelephium telephium, and Sedum spectabile is now Hylotelephium spectabile.

When you are buying a sedum with coloured leaves make sure that you see the plant in flower, either for real or in a photo. And, if using a catalogue, check out 2 or 3 as the same plant can appear in slightly different shades. You could be horrified by a clash of leaf and flower. Would you really tolerate a custard yellow flower against a purple backdrop, for example?

With clashes like this in mind, we should tread carefully through the hundreds of different types now available. Some of the more widely grown species are Sedum spurium, now known as Phedimus spurius. This low growing semi-evergreen with blue-green glaucus leaves has several different varieties. The most popular ‘Dragon’s Blood has neon pink flowers and purple tinted leaves.

Plant of the week

Apples Arbroath Oslin. Greeny yellow apples, freckled with russet. A dessert apple, they have good acidity with a hint of aniseed. The skin is aromatic.