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Hostage to hostas

Updated October 19, 2014


Magnificent hostas
Magnificent hostas

Take another look at that difficult, almost impossible to brighten up, shady spot in the garden or in the darkest corner of the balcony where very little natural light manages to penetrate and imagine it bursting with eye-catching Hostas in all of their variegated glory with, this is an added bonus, a burst of white, blue, lavender or pink blossom when the time is right and you have the reliable answer to what was formerly a problem.

Hostas, native to China, Japan and the Korean peninsula, were underrated for many years but are finally making waves on the Pakistani gardening front although, as yet, nurseries in general offer a limited range. However, the expanding number of plant specialists, many of them private dealers, have begun importing some spectacular, if expensive, Hosta species and cultivars which will, given time for the ‘multiplication game’ to take hold, take our gardening world by storm.

There are a possible 45 distinct species of Hostas — plant taxonomists are still arguing about the exact number — and well over 3,000 named varieties/cultivars so far. New varieties/cultivars are being discovered or bred all the time which makes for an ever expanding selection of these shade-loving ornamentals.

Grown from rhizomes or stolons, Hostas are herbaceous perennial plants whose main attraction is their lanceolate or ovate leaves. The leaves vary in size from miniature plants bearing leaves a mere 2cm long, 3cm wide, in clumps just 4cm across and 8cm tall, right through the size spectrum up to giants producing leaves measuring approximately 45cm long, 30cm wide, in clumps a massive 200cms across and about 150cm tall.

Leaves of various shades of green and bell-shaped flowers of the hosta plant are sure to brighten up your garden

Hostas are mostly cultivated for their often gorgeous, variegated leaves whose colour combinations include green and silver, jade green and gold, pale green and lemon, deep emerald green and blazing white, chartreuse yellow, sulphur yellow veined with forest green, glaucous blues streaked with white, silver, gold and every shade of green imaginable. These striking plants send up tall spires of very pretty, bell-shaped, flowers during late spring to early summer and, here in Pakistan, sometimes decide to have a second flowering session in autumn. Only one species, Hosta plantaginia, can boast of distinctly perfumed flowers and, unlike all of the others whose flowers are open around the clock, its four inch long, white bells, open in the evening light, remain open and fragrant all night and close again around sunrise which, all things being considered, make them a ‘must have’ for any perfumed garden to relax in under the moon.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Plantain lilies’ or ‘Funkia’, they enjoy both shade and damp, and have a distinctive preference for humus rich, therefore water retentive, soil. Provided that these growing conditions are maintained, they are perfectly at home in cool clay pots or other suitable containers, whose size and depth depends on the expected size of the plant when it reaches maturity.

  The flowers are gorgeous too.
The flowers are gorgeous too.

The rhizomes or stolons are best planted just under the soil surface: as they grow and multiply they have a tendency to become partially exposed, especially so if they become overcrowded as, if they are thriving, they will do within a couple of years at the most. Hostas are usually multiplied by division of overcrowded clumps every other year but can also be grown from seed which — this is exciting — produces a new generation of plants whose leaves rarely resemble those of their parents, so you have some wonderful surprises in store!

There has to be a catch with these shade and damp loving plants and, of course, there is: slugs and snails adore shade and damp too and, sadly, these pests also adore Hostas and can decimate a plant almost overnight. There are various ways of keeping slugs and snails away from Hostas, thankfully not all of them chemical.

The most successful organic methods of slug and snail control are:

  Unfortunately slugs and snails love them.
Unfortunately slugs and snails love them.

Surrounding the plants with sharp gravel over which these nasties are reluctant to travel.

Sinking traps — these can be paper cups or small tins — half-filled with sugar solution and a few grains of dry yeast or with a sickly soft drink plus yeast. The strong aroma of fermenting yeast as it feeds on the sugar attracts slugs and snails to ‘party’ and they fall into the traps and cannot climb out. Traps should be emptied and refilled regularly.

Place a few slices of cucumber on small aluminium trays and put these in amongst the plants. The cucumber reacts with the aluminium and produces a high pitched sound, not heard by human ears, which the slugs and snails cannot stand. They then ‘escape’ out of the garden into the neighbouring one where, one hopes, the identical method is being used to drive them even further away! Replenishing the trays every two to three days is recommended as the cucumber will dry out and stop ‘whistling’.

Resorting to the age old method of hand picking, this is most ‘profitable’ between sunset and sunrise, any nasties you can find lurking beneath the leaves and on the soil and then disposing of them as you see fit.

Once you have the pleasure of enjoying Hostas in all their glory — and manage to control the pests of course — these gracious and definitely gorgeous plants will hold you hostage for life and — this is a promise — you will embark on an endless hunt for more.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 19th, 2014