If you have a shady spot in your garden, you probably have a typically well-behaved, long-lived hosta or two to fill the space. And because many hostas have striking foliage such as yellow, lime-green, green and white or green and yellow leaves, they draw the eye to an otherwise dark and overlooked space. Hostas also come in blues and several shades of green (even variegated green on green), contrasting with or complimenting surrounding vegetation.
It’s not just about the colour with hostas – they vary greatly in size from diminutive border plants only a few centimeters tall and wide to giants, with some reaching nearly a metre in height by two metres wide (under ideal conditions of course). They also vary in leaf shape with long, narrow, curled, flat, cupped or wide leaves; in leaf texture including flat, puckered, corrugated, smooth, glossy or dull; and in overall plant shape (e.g. strongly upright to low and spreading). The flowers, usually appearing in mid-season, are in soft pastels like pink, mauve, rose and even near-white – though rarely fragrant. And while it’s true hostas are ideally suited to the shade garden, some cultivars like Patriot, in my experience, can thrive in full sun. Two things all hostas have in common is they grow best under evenly moist conditions and that they are not rampant spreaders. In this latter aspect, they are considered clump-forming herbaceous perennials, slowly expanding in width as they age.
So when faced with literally hundreds of options, sometimes it easiest to accept a recommendation or two from the experts. In this case it’s the American Hosta Growers Association (www.hostagrowers.org). Since 1996, they have been promoting a Hosta of the Year, a cultivar that is a proven performer. This year Victory is the winning selection, introduced in 2003.
Victory is considered a giant when mature (and under ideal growing conditions) at 76 centimetres tall by 178 centimetres wide. The upright, broad, heart-shaped leaves are variegated: shiny, two-toned green centres are surrounded by a yellowish margin that lightens up to creamy white over the season. The leaves are described as thick, making them less susceptible to visible damage from slugs, the scourge of hostas (deer and rabbits can also make quick salad of your favourite hostas). The scapes (flower stems) hold the nearly white, downward-facing bell-shaped flowers well above the foliage. Because of its size and upright vase-shape, Victory is best suited as a specimen plant and place in the middle to back of the border.
When looking for a suitable image for this article, I came across John Gamradt, an amateur gardener passionate about his hostas. He has not simply accepted the advice of experts with only choosing one or two hostas to try. On his website (www.hostagardener.com), he has images of 686 hosta cultivars organized alphabetically. Most cultivars have several pictures documenting different ages and times of the year. What’s most amazing is that all 686 hostas are growing in his Minnesota garden, in a climate not too unlike ours. He started slow with his first hosta received as a gift in 1992 and for the next decade added only a few new additional cultivars to his garden. Then in 2003, he discovered yellow hostas and he hasn’t looked back since. I asked him what drew him to this genus of plants: “What fascinates me about hostas is how each hosta has its own beauty and the beauty of the hosta changes during the growing season.”
Being dependable, low-maintenance and versatile combined with an amazing variety in shape, texture and form, it’s easy to understand how starting off with a few hostas in your garden can lead to a mild obsession.
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (www.saskperennial.ca; firstname.lastname@example.org). Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions