In the shadow

Is your garden overshadowed by a tall fence, old trees, or neighboring buildings? Does it enjoy only a couple of hours of sunshine at most? If so, then maybe it is time for you to consider growing hostas (Hosta).

Hostas have been grown in Europe from time immemorial. Medleys of at least 2-3 varieties of green or glaucous leaved plants flourish in most countryside gardens, including an obligatory green white-edged plant. Hosta leaves come in a variety of shapes and forms – round, oblong, lanceolate, very narrow, puckered, waxy, straight and wavy, erect and drooping. Shades and colors are various as well – glaucous blues, grays, greens, yellows, even white (leaves of the `White Fever` cultivar start of as white, turning green as they mature). Certain cultivars show variegation in white, cream, yellow, gold, green or blue with margins of a few millimeters width to as much as half a leaf. Some hostas retain their color throughout the season, while others reveal colorful changes of foliage, depending on the time of the year.

In addition to the spectacular leaves, hostas possess delicate bell-shaped flowers in long spikes. Some cultivars produce especially large, fragrant and colorful flowers, in various shades of white to purple. Hostas with pure white flowers are especially valuable. According to the size of clump, hostas fall into the following categories: miniatiure (clump grows up to 10-20 cm in diameter), small (20-40 cm), medium (40-60cm), large (60-90 cm) and very large (90-150 cm and more). Usually, plants only attain their final size in their 4th or 5th year.

Over the years hostas have become one of the most popular garden plants. Even owners of sunny gardens turn to them, once shrubs and trees reach considerable height. Although majority of hostas are most comfortable when grown in shade or semi-shade, some cultivars tolerate or even prefer sunny sites (as in the case of yellow-leaved or variegated varieties). They also tolerate salty soil well, shrugging off flooding, drought and even cold.

Hostas are easily grown by an experienced and novice gardener alike, and even a lazy one. They patiently endure poor growing conditions. True, one should not expect plants to be of top condition under such circumstances. When grown in friable, moist and fertile soil, in shade or semi-shade the hosta will always be larger, lushier and more brightly colored than the plant grown in less favorable dry sunshine.It may take up to a year or so for a hosta to reveal its ultimate glory, since young plants often differ from mature ones in their form, texture and coloring.

Slugs and snails are the worst enemies of hostas, although cultivars, resistant to these pests, do exist. One of major drawbacks of hostas is their susceptibility to late frosts. Their growing season starts rather late in spring, and is cut short fairly early in autumn, when the leaves start coloring in preparation for dormancy.

Certain varieties exhibit seasonal foliar changes. Some cultivars retain the colours of their leaves or margins until mid-summer, eventually fading or turning green, while other cultivars behave in a totally opposite way, revealing their beauty only during the second half of summer.

In mixed plantings, hostas make a perfect companion plant to be grown alongside Japanese anemones, arisaemas, astilbes, brunneras, bugbanes, lily-of-the-valley, bleeding-hearts, variegated grasses, hellebores, coral-bells, daylilies, irises, Japanese woodland primulas, pulmonarias, saxifrages, rodgersias, rhododendrons, conifers and ferns.

Hostas are extensively used by gardeners in a multitude of ways – to edge lawns, paths, flowerbeds; in mixed borders; to cover up bases of tree trunks, or to be planted as a backdrop for smaller plants. In mixed border small-leaved hostas, ferns, heucheras and astilbes can be used as fillers-in or for covering up unsightly leaves of the fading plants. It is also possible to create a single-species planting from 4-8 hostas of different sizes and colors. Sun-tolerant hostas are effectively used to shade a raised water feature or a container with water lilies, or to provide a clematis with a cool root run. Planted next to pendant trees, fountains, creeks and waterfalls, hostas can be a genuinely magnificent sight to behold.

© Giedra Bartas, 2009

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