Hostas can be the gardener’s best friend, with their shimmering multi-hued leaves, ranging from white through yellow to green and and onto the bluest of blues. Delicate spires of flowers in mauve, white and purple rise in summer, but best of all, these are perennials that thrive in the shade.
Hostas are the perfectly behaved plant; their leaves come out in late spring, and look good all summer before dying back in winter. Some can be vulnerable to snails, so spread some gravel round the base as a deterrent. If they are in pots, a copper band around the rim may also deter slugs and snails from feasting on the leaves. Some people like to use crushed up egg shells, see what works for you. Add a good feed and a 5-10cm mulch of compost or leaf mould around the plants to encourage good, thick leaf growth.
Contrary to popular belief, hostas do not just produce leaves, all hosta varieties produce flowers, and some are beautifully fragrant. As plants, they give architectural structure to a garden adding subtle colour and texture, too. A good idea is to plant different varieties in pots and then position them to create waves of blue/green colour to your liking. You could then replant them in your favourite arrangement to establish them in your beds and borders.
They can be large leaved but look out for little leaved varieties such as (H. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’) which is a recently bred adorable miniature hosta just 10-15cm tall. It has small rounded mouse-ear-shaped leaves and exquisite lavender blue flowers in a neat clump.
Hostas are hardy perennials that last from spring to autumn, reappearing each year without too much care and attention.
Plant hostas in spring, when new crown tips show, and position them in full or partial shade. The site should be well-drained but not dry, with neutral to acid, rich loam soil.
Grown and loved for their glorious foliage, hostas can be petite (H. Tiny Tears is one of the smallest, its leaves about the size of a dessert spoon) or enormous (H. Empress Wu is apparently the largest, with leaves measuring 45cm wide and likely to grow more than a metre high).
Although we think of hostas as foliage plants, they all produce flowers, from white to deep purple, and many, such as H. Avocado and H. Fragrant Queen, are scented.
When planting, dig a hole twice the diameter and one and a half times the depth of the root ball. Tease the roots apart before planting and water lightly for the first two weeks, applying foliar feed throughout the growing season.
Hosta plants are shade tolerant, and so do particularly well in damp conditions.
For maximum effect in the garden, plant hostas in multiples, mixing a selection of specimens with contrasting colours, textures and shapes.
The downside to growing hostas is that slugs and snails love them, and unless they are dealt with firmly, these pests can reduce a fine crown of leaves to a garden doily overnight. Look out for pests and deter them immediately. There are a number of ways to do this, from encouraging natural predators such as birds, frogs and hedgehogs to using slug pellets, salt, garlic washes and copper bands, but being prompt and proactive are the keys to success.
The H. Francee, shown here, opens early in spring with lilac flowers, and its dense foliage makes it both slug- and sunlight-tolerant.
The H. June, shown here, is a chameleon hosta, the colour of which depends on the amount of light it receives, and is named after the woman who first bred it. Roger Bowden, holder of the National Collection of Modern Hybrid Hostas, explains why the variety is his favourite: ‘The Halcyon-type leaf is very definitely blue, but in shady conditions it appears to be splashed with gold; and seen in the light, the foliage is brighter and more green. As the plant matures, it grows in such a way that it protects its lower leaves from the light, and this helps to make it hardier.’
Try growing hostas in pots; the key to good growth is to give the plants limited room. Line the pot with a fine wire mesh to prevent a slug attack from below, fill with good free-draining compost and plant up tightly, leaving only 2.5cm all round. Do not plant too deep place within 5cm of the pot rim and top with 5cm of gravel to deter slugs and improve drainage. Feed through the growing season and do not allow to dry out, and experiment with light levels to achieve optimum foliage colouration. Stand pots on feet in winter to prevent waterlogging and beware of vine weevil in spring and autumn. Re-pot when the roots reach the pot sides.
Una Dunnet, holder of the National Collection of Hostas in Pots, advises: “I keep my hostas in free-draining pots, which are shaded to prolong the striking foliage colours. I make my own garlic wash to deter slugs and use Provado to combat vine weevil.”
The H. Blue Mouse Ears, a beautiful blue miniature with violet striped flowers, is ideal for rockeries and pots.
Use garden fencing to protect the beds against rabbits in the winter.