Finding the perfect plant for a shady corner can be a bit of a headache, especially if you want something that will definitely make an impression which is where the overlooked Hosta family comes in.
Many people are under the impression that these very attractive foliage plants are only suitable for cool climates but this is not the case as they actually originate from the Far East which experiences some fairly hot and humid conditions over the summer months. Hostas or ‘Plantain Lily’ as they are sometimes called, enjoy moist but well drained organic loam growing conditions in full sun, light shade, medium or full shade depending on the species and are particularly impressive when grown adjacent to ponds as the extra humidity generated by the presence of water, suits them perfectly.
Ranging in height from a mere couple of inches up to a magnificent five feet tall and a mind blowing five feet across, hostas are comfortable when grown directly in the ground or in clay pots and other containers, the size of pot obviously depending on the species. Widely grown as specimen plants in Japanese gardens, the shape of the leaves vary from lance-shaped to almost round, all having a distinctive, occasionally curly, point at the tip. Some varieties have perfectly smooth leaves, others are distinctly ribbed and yet others display warty kind of bumps in between the ribs and leaf colours are designed to sooth the eyes no matter how blisteringly hot the weather.
Okay… I hear you saying that hostas are green and yes, many of them are but here is where it gets interesting as there is an incredible range and depth to the colour green. Lime green, new green, spring green, emerald green, forest green, sea green, brilliant green, moss green, grass green, dark green and I could go on and on and on but will switch over to the blues instead. Blue hostas are especially attractive although sometimes they need to be grown right next door to an especially startling shade of green hosta to set them off. With names including ‘Wedgewood blue’, ‘Hadspen blue’, ‘Buckshaw blue’, ‘Blue angel’ and ‘Blue cadet’ there is certainly a blue shade to suit your imagination and provide that extra special something to liven up the drabbest corner of your well planned garden.
And, as if all of the above weren’t enough, there is a fantastic array of variegated hostas too: How about forest green with a white trim, soft green with white laced edging, sea green with white streaks, glaucous blue with cream streaks, a yellow green centre surrounded by emerald green, pine green captured in silver etching, grass green in a field of gold or a kind of matte sunshine gold all on its own. Most hostas also manage to astound by sending up strong stalks of nodding, bell-shaped, lilac or white flowers when they are in the mood.
Easily germinated from either autumn or spring sown seeds — seeds rarely come true to the parent plant so you will have great fun seeing what kind of colour and leaf forms your seedlings decide to take — established plants can be multiplied by root division also during the spring and autumn months. A limited selection can be found in nurseries; these have been multiplied through root division not grown from seed, with prices varying widely between Rs100 for a very small specimen and as much as Rs2,500 for a large one.
As they are, quite sensibly in my humble opinion, somewhat allergic to chemical interventions in any shape or form, it makes sense to give them a regular, cooling mulch of well rotted, organic manure, homemade compost, leave mould or a mix of all three and never ever let the roots dry out or that, my dear gardening friend, will be that!
Having, hopefully, convinced you to give these wonderful plants a try, I must now add a note of caution: Slugs and snails absolutely drool over hostas. There are, of course, various ways in which to prevent these voracious beasties from devouring your precious plants: Putting out lots of water traps, baited with yeast and sugar, works pretty well as long as you clean out the traps and refill them regularly; placing aluminum foil trays containing slices of cucumber is supposed to work if, that is, the cucumber does what it is supposed to do — which is to react with the aluminum and emit a high pitched sound that drives slugs and snails away to your neighbours’ garden and possibly further. Or venture out, torch in hand, sometime during the night and, wearing rubber gloves, pick up every nasty beastie you can find, do remember to look underneath the leaves not just on top, then dispose of them as humanely as possible. Alternatively grow your hostas in clay pots standing on a raised platform, a small table is fine, which is itself standing in water as the majority of slugs and snails, not all I hasten to add, can’t swim!
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