According to the Perennial Plant Association, hostas have become the No. 1 selling perennial in America. And no wonder. With more than 7,000 named varieties to choose from, there is a size, color and shape of hosta to suit every taste and garden. In addition, this shade-tolerant perennial is easy to grow and serves many functions in the landscape. Large hosta, such as H. 'Sagae' and H. 'Empress Wu', make fantastic focal points. Hostas can be planted in drifts (H. 'Austin Dickinson') or as a ground cover (H. Kabitan'). Hostas also make wonderful edging plants along garden beds or pathways (H. 'Golden Tiara' or H. 'Radiant Edger').
Hostas are native to eastern Asia and were first brought to Europe in the 1700's. They made their way to the U.S. in the 19th century. There are about 40 different species of hosta, nearly all of which are green. Over the last fifty years, thousands of new hosta cultivars have been introduced through hybridization and “sports” (mutations), and the range of colors has grown to include bold yellows, deep blues, pure white and dramatic variegations.
Hosta are hardy to Zone 3, which means that gardeners living in even the coldest climates can enjoy their beauty. Hosta offer a three-season presence and all change color as the season progresses. Bright yellows can become chartreuse, chalky blues can become green and the yellow centers of certain green hosta can become pure white. Some emerge brightly colored in the spring, then fade, while others are at their peak in the fall. All end the growing season by turning a pale straw yellow, that looks beautiful in the soft light of autumn.
The genus Hosta is a member of the family Liliacea, which includes lilies. Nearly all hosta are summer-flowering, with flowers that grow on a bloom stalk, or scape, that rises out of the center of the plant. Flowers range in color from white to purple; many are striped and some are intensely fragrant, such as H. plantaginea 'Venus'. Hosta flowers last only a day, like daylilies, but mature plants can produce a dozen scapes and hundreds of flowers. With hosta, it is possible to have flowers blooming all summer long.
While most people think of hosta as a shade plant, most need some sun and many do best in full sun, such as H. 'Stained Glass', and H. 'Guacamole'. Hosta range in size from 10 feet in diameter (H. 'Sum and Substance') to a few inches in diameter (H. 'Shiny Penny' and H. 'Pandora's Box'). Dwarf and miniature hosta are all the rage now. They look wonderful planted in groups in the garden and make fantastic additions to trough plantings.
As if all the choices for size, color and shape aren't enough, you also can select hosta based on their names alone. Who wouldn't enjoy H. 'Queen of the Seas' or H. 'Lakeside Sea Captain' gracing their seaside gardens? I will confess to purchasing hostas because I enjoyed the name. I have H. 'Mountain Mist' because it reminds me of family camping trips, and a beautiful H. 'Three Sisters', because it reminds me of the relationship of my three daughters.
Hosta are called “The Friendship Plant” by the American Hosta Society, because of the friends that are made as people share their hosta and visit each others gardens. I can vouch for that. Since I joined the New England Hosta Society, I have been to many gardens that contain over 1,000 different named varieties of hosta, to gardens owned by hybridizers that contain the newest hosta available, and to more modest gardens. All along the way, I have met friendly, generous people and have come to appreciate even more the genus Hosta and the beauty and tranquility it brings to the home garden.
Every year, the American Hosta Society hosts a convention somewhere in the United States. It is attended by hosta afficionados from all over the country and the world. This year, for the first time, it is being held in New England, June 22-26, at the Convention Center-Best Western Royal Plaza in Marlboro, MA. For complete information on the event, go to www.hosta2011.org.
A great online resource for hosta information is www.hostalibrary.org. It describes thousands of hosta in an alphabetized list, with pictures.
By Joan Butler