The very versatile hosta

Even though the hostas growing in our garden are late bloomers, they are worth the wait. Just as the leaves, which are truly magnificent throughout spring, begin to show signs of summer heat stress, tall but strong stalks rise from the clumps, each topped with whorls of huge flower buds. Once the pure white double flowers open, the sight and the smell are beyond words. In fact, as I am preparing this column, a fully open bloom that I brought inside has perfumed our entire eat-in kitchen area, where, incidentally, we spend most of our days.  Seems like we got ourselves a “two for one” deal! Moreover, as the buds open in succession, the show goes on for a fair amount of time.

Perhaps one of the most popular perennials for a shade garden, hostas are prized for the foliage that comes in many, many shades of green, from plain to variegated, and in hues of blue, as well. One can grow them to line a border, around trees, as specimen plants or in containers. Also, since lots of different varieties are available in the market these days, a gardener has a number of options to incorporate them in the landscape.

A nice resource to lean upon if in a fix as to which ones to start with is the list of recipients of the “Hosta of the Year” award presented each year by the American Hosta Growers Association. For example, the winner for 2008 is called “Blue Mouse Ears,” for 2009, it is “Earth Angel,” and the one for 2010 is going to be “First Frost.” While I have not had the opportunity of growing the award-winners of all the past years, I do have the “Blue Mouse Ears”; planted in a container, this pint-sized plant with bluish-green foliage is simply delightful.    

Hostas are easy to grow, but for those who would like to know pretty much all that there is to know about the plant, a great book to refer is titled, aptly, The Hosta Book, edited and compiled by Paul Aden. Equipped with details to help educate a beginner as well as a connoisseur, the book has several pages of color pictures, along with their descriptions, of varieties recommended for enhancing the landscape.  

Interestingly, the compiler of the book has gone a step further to satisfy the needs of not only the gardeners, but flower arrangers also by including a whole chapter – illustrations and all – on using leaves and flowers of hostas to create very artistic flower designs. However, if getting involved in this art is not your thing, just grab an ordinary vase and throw in a handful of hosta leaves, and there you have it: A simple yet elegant arrangement everyone will rave about!

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