Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lessons Learned

Though I value the role that hostas play in any garden, I have always been reluctant to invest any serious money in them. My collection of hostas is largely a rag-tag band of unidentified clearance items, and plants grown small cuttings that I gotten from other gardeners.

A serious hosta collector can pay fifty, a hundred or even hundreds of dollars for a single plant. So what is it that they see in hostas that I don't? 

Looking for the answer to this question got me to thinking and I recently found myself veering into uncharted territory, as I took a wander down the isles of pricer hosta plants at my favourite nursery. 

I already afford hostas a good measure of respect. They are reliable, easy to grow and flourish in low light conditions, where more showy perennials do not.

My collection of unassuming plants have given me a good primary education. 

They have taught me that, depending on the variety, hosta will bloom over a fairly broad span of time. The earliest flowering hosta I have bloom in June, and the latest flowers well into August.

When you consider them closely, you come to realize that there is also a wide variance in the sizes and colors of hosta flowers. Some hosta send up long, delicate wands that are curve and sway.

And then others have stiff, upright stems like flagpoles. Some flowers are soft lavender, others almost purple and some even have crisp, clean white blooms.

Though the flowers are a nice bonus, let's face it, hostas are valued primarily for their foliage. The leaf colors of even my clearance plants vary greatly. They range everywhere from green to grey-green to chartreuse. And hosta leaves accented with white seem to light up shady corners of my garden.

On the left: Hosta 'Love Pat' Whitish flowers and puckered blue-green leaves. Part shade to full sun. Height: 50 cm, Spread: 65 cm.  On the right: Hosta 'Mount Tom' Intense blue-green leaves with white margins. Pale lavender flowers. Light to full shade. Height: 40-60cm Spread 70 cm.

Though my inexpensive plants have given me a good grounding, I am at the point where I want to broaden my horizons.

So what awaits you when you stroll down the hosta isles at a nursery looking for that "one" with that special something?

Well, I discovered that slightly more expensive plants have neat textures like the crinkled and puckered foliage of the two hostas above.

Hosta 'Fire and Ice' Lavender flowers on white stems to 60 cm. 
Sun or shade. Height 35 cm, Spread 45 cm.

The variegation is often more interesting as well.

Hosta 'Sun Power' Brillant gold leaves. Sun to Part shade. Pale lavender flowers. 
Height: 75 cm Spread: 100-120 cm

Pricer plants offer some very interesting color options that could enhance my collection. Love the almost golden leaves of this hosta called 'Sun Power'!

On the left: Hosta 'First Frost' Emerges with gold margins in early spring that change to pure white later in the season. Lavender flowers on 70 cm scapes. Part shade. Height 40 cm Spacing 95 cm. On the right: Hosta 'Gold Regal' Purple flowers. Some sun for good color. Height 50 cm, Spread 70 cm.

I think my garden could benifit from a greater variety of leaf shapes. Some hosta leaves can be quite round, others almost heart-shaped. These hosta above have a nice, long tapered oval.

Hosta 'Praying Hands' Upright narrow leaves that are rolled and folded into a tube shape. Thin white margins and prominant veins on the underside of the leaves. Lavender flowers. Height: 40 cm, Spread 40 cm.

I thought this hosta was quite interesting. 'Praying Hands' was named the 2011 Hosta of the Year by the American Hosta Society. The upright, narrow leaves resemble hands folded in prayer.

I am never going to be willing or able to spend a fortune on hosta plants, but I do find myself wanting to invest in a few stars that just might impart their more affordable cousins a little extra lustre by association. 

The gardens that I visited last summer are another reason I want to expand my horizons.

The garden of hosta collector Joe Covello really inspired me. He does a super job of combining different foliage shapes and colors in his Brampton, ON garden.

I really liked this combination of Japanese Ghost Fern and an almost-chartreuse hosta 
in the garden of Heather Bradley.

Vicky Downes emphasizes the white margins of this hosta 
with a companion perennial that has white flowers. 

Here in the garden of Amber and Kevin Downes, a grey-green hosta has a nice color echo in the form of a blue-green evergreen. Their blue-grey foliage is emphasized even more by the golden colored leaves of the euonymus just behind them.

With a big garden to fill, I have always gone for quantity over quality when it comes to buying hosta. 

Now that I am a seasoned gardener and more experienced with my particular plot of land, I find myself feeling less panicked to fill it up immediately. I think I have finally learned to value quality, not quantity.

I am sorry that I have been missing from blogland and am way behind on returning visits. A terrible chest cold left me exhausted for days and when I recovered, my husband was off on vacation. I promise to catch up with everyone in the next few days.

P.S. No, that is not my garden in the header shot today (I wish)! That is the Rockery at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

More Information and Links:

Be sure to checkout these two posts on the subject of hosta by Carolyn of Carolyn's Shade Gardens. I LOVE Mice on miniature hosta and Beyond Mice.


  1. Hi Jennifer
    Sorry to hear you were sick - there are some nasty germs out there this time of year.
    Your hosta photographs are superb - all your photos are incredible as a matter of fact. I have always loved hostas - the green, the blue, the yellow and the variegated. I like them big, I like them tiny. I too refuse to spend all my allotted gardening budget on the new ones, but I wait a few years until they are not the 'flavour of the month" and then pick them up. Glad you are starting to really enjoy them.

  2. Those are some gorgeous garden photos. We have only recently been buying hostas for our shady garden areas so we're still in the quantity not quality stage.

  3. Super nice pics and very interesting to read! :-)

  4. Hi Jennifer, glad to hear you're feeling better. I'm in your previous stage of having a lot of space to fill and purchasing for quantity. Wish I could afford some of the pricier plants but I'm stuck firmly in the clearance aisle. I like the idea of adding a few stars though to bring out the best of the plants you already own.

  5. WOW gorgeous shots of hostas with companions! I tend to think about hostas as boring, shade filler plants, but I'll have to start paying attention more! BTW I think some of the cheaper hostas are cheap because they're older varieties, not necessarily b/c they're not as good. 'Blue Angel' and 'Frances Williams' are really awesome, but often cheap because they've been around awhile.

  6. So sorry you havn't been feeling well, hope you are now recovered.The hostas in your photos look really good and show how important they are in shady borders. We have quite a few, I tend to go for large tough ones that can stand up to our snails!

  7. Hostas are like ornamental grasses --- one or two plunked about the garden is horrible, just wrong. But used as an effective foliage foil to other plants and designed with intent . . . wow. I am impressed when I see hostas used well. I am depressed at most hostas I see in gardens, including mine.

    I am like you right now -- willing to branch out a little and see how I can use this plant to better effect. I love learning from your blog!

  8. While I am not a huge hosta purchaser I do think that 'Fire and Ice' is quite fetching. I agree with 'spurge's comment about pricing, usually the high prices are on new cultivars that have required an investment by the grower. Tried and true never fail.

  9. Thanks so much for linking to my two posts on miniature hostas. A great way to get really superior hostas is to choose the Hostas of the Year---they are all great plants and there are only around 18 of them out of the 8,000 hosta cultivars. the Shady Oaks Nursery site has great photos of all of them if you search hosta of the year.

  10. Jennifer, I love your posts! Thank you for the gorgeous photos, I'm so inspired!!

  11. Great photos - and the camera never knows which plant has the higher price tag. Beauty and value are in the eye of the beholder. My favorite hosta is one given to me by a dear friend. It isn't especially unusual and I doubt the Hosta Society would give it a second glance, but to me it is priceless.

  12. I can't quite make my mind up about hostas - I used to have them now I don't - my garden is much too sluggy and I would put slug pellet manufacturers out of business buying up all their stocks just to keep the plants going.

  13. Glad to hear you are feeling better. I'm a lover of hostas - all sizes and shapes and colours. But I do not like their flowers and usually cut off the flower spikes before they bloom. My (current) favorites are "Patriot" for it's strong green and white leaves and "Guacamole" a smaller hosta with blue/green leaves. Both of these are in pots that I've had for a bout 5 years and overwinter in the garage.

  14. My very first flatmate gave me a potted hosta about 30 years ago. I ashamed to say that it was first and last, and yet I have always liked them. Your beautiful photos have really renewed my interest, although I suspect if they do so well in your part of the world, they are probably not suited to the sub-tropics. But I will definitely investigate further once I return home.

  15. Heyyy, Jennifer, welcome back. I'm glad you're better.

    In images and words, you make a compelling case for a plant I've always considered a passalong to be stashed, ignored and tolerated. I can see how the myriad choices (up the price range) elevate hosta to garden art. Point made. And, taken.

  16. Also glad you are feeling better! I just love hostas, I just finished reading a book about them (from the library and I'll be darned it I can remember the name of it). I was surprized at how small some of them can be.

    I would love to be able to grow them in pots, but not sure how they would survive the winter (without a lot of fuss).

  17. I use a lot of hosta in design and there are so many varieties, as you have shown. Some of those you pictured are really reliable and perk up a shady part of a garden. But I can never for the life of me understand the prices on many of them, since it is so easy to divide them.

  18. Such beautiful photographs Jennifer!
    I am with you on the hosta. Maybe it is just because there was so much of it here when we moved in.
    Seems like I have been digging it out for years, and that is no easy feat.
    I do have some beautiful pure white fragrant ones that I love though.
    I wish you a wonderful weekend!

  19. Sorry to hear you haven't been feeling well, Jennifer; there seem to have been a lot of viruses going around in the past month. I'm hope you're taking it slow, though, now that you're back on the mend.

    I do love hostas, but I'm not a hosta connoisseur, either. Most of my collection started out as bargain buys or passalongs that have been divided several times (another bonus to hostas). My shade garden is now so full, I should say crowded, there is no room for another one, and yet every year I seem to find a couple more I just have to have and shoehorn them in:) I don't worry about names, but I do like the variegated ones with chartreuse and the dark blue ones.

    I enjoyed this post--you've given me some ideas for plant combinations with all these beautiful photos.

    Glad to meet another Jane Eyre fan! And yes, I have "Death at Pemberley" on my nightstand. I've only read a few chapters, but it seems pretty good. I like P.D. James' other mysteries, but in this one her style seems somewhat similar to Austen's without the humor. I haven't had much time to read lately, so I may have to send it back to the library and wait till summer to finish it.

  20. I like hostas as well, but I don't spend a lot on them. Friends cut the leaves and created lovely bouquets they used as centerpieces for an outdoor dinner party. I'll keep collecting, but it will be 'design on dime' collecting for me.

  21. Wow! What beautiful photos. I'm new to your blog, but I already love it a lot!

  22. Love the serenity in these images. I like the pastel colors in flowers , gives peace to the mind. I also love how you have captured the shapes of the leaves in your camera, very beautiful indeed !
    I appreciate how you have grouped several varieties and different sizes (as well as different colors) of flora and fauna side by side in the same plot with a beautiful effect.
    Have a great weekend,

  23. The many hostas in my garden came as gifts from other gardeners. Hostas need to be coddled a bit in our dry and rocky island garden. Although we have rain for a good part of the year, the summer is always characterized by drought, and I see that the beds are already quite dry, despite rain every day this past week. I'd love to add a distinctly variegated hosta to my collection.

  24. Big sad sigh. I wish I could grow hostas like the ones pictured. They just do not do well in our hot climate. They do fairly well in containers, but in the ground they suffer. I will just have to enjoy them through the blogs :-)

  25. Hope you are well on the way to recovering.... you certainly give me pause to consider what I like in hostas but I like you will not spend a fortune. I have come to the realization I do not like slugs for that reason I now tend to look to thick hosta leaves, with crinkles , seems slugs like them the least.

  26. Jennifer girl !
    My goodness you have to look after yourself much better !
    Funny about your husband going on vacation .. we do that too .. my hubby has been going to Cuba for years now and I just love having the house to myself with the girls of course ;-)
    You asked me about that shadow .. it is my Austrian Pine that I dwarfed in the pot (my Charlie Brown Xmas tree, hehe)
    Hosta .. I am not one for the flowers .. it is all about the foliage.
    I too went from quantity to a little more quality. Although I have to say August Moon and "elegans" had me working from a solid base .. as well as Halcyon (I love the blue hosta) .. but I also have Sun Power and one of the cutest ones I have seen yet (and no it isn't Mouse ears ! haha) Little Miss Sunshine has me totally enamored .. I love the small size .. the shape of the foliage .. and that amazing yellow gold that shines in the garden .
    I have been adding "gold" foliage through out the back garden and against the black mulch it is fantastic .. small sized False Cypress (Gold Threadleaf), Goldmound spirea .. gold Creeping Jenny .. hits of gold are shining in the garden and I love it .. yes .. as we become more seasoned we become a little more picky. And what the heck are they still selling that damn goutweed and a few other nasty brutes for ? they should be banned !!
    I feel for you with pulling that out .. I was on my hands and knees spreading said mulch .. but looking at it now is VERY satisfying ! LOL
    We are a funny lot of people, us gardeners aren't we ? haha
    Rest up girl .. the season is just beginning !
    Joy: ) with aches, pains, and gray hairs too !

  27. A post to my hart. I love hosta's. The only thing is my space in my garden is to small. At first when you buy a hosta you don't think about the size she get's in about 3 years. But still I love these plants.
    Hope you are feeling much more better now Jennifer.

  28. In my garden there is an inverse relationship between the price paid for a hosta and how long it lives, and the only ones that are still live and close to thriving were freebies.

  29. I remember seeing a gorgeous yellow hosta (maybe Sun Power??) on your blog last year ~ I think from some garden tour photos? I love hostas but only have a few since they like shade & moisture which I don't have much of! Would love to try 'Sun Power' tho!!
    Hope you are feeling better? Thanks for the compliments on my cattleya orchid ~ I like that shade of green too! As for the bottom leaves of your orchid turning brown ~ I think that's pretty normal. As mine get new leaves they will often lose the oldest one.

    1. Kathleen, I am well recovered. Thanks for the orchid advice. I am relieved that I am not doing anything seriously wrong with my orchids.


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