Hosta: The Plantain Lily
Hostas are, of course, principally grown for their large, graceful leaves. First introduced to our gardens in the late 1700s, with the Chinese Hosta plantaginea, others quickly followed, mainly from Japan. There are more than 70 species and hundreds of modern varieties (which are being added to every year, particularly from plant breeders in the USA).
There are few hardythat can match the variety, diversity of form, texture and leaf colourings as the hosta. These are fast-spreading, clump-forming plants that enhance any waterside environment.
They have always been thought of as plants for the damp, shadier parts of, but most gardeners now recognise them as much more versatile plants, often tolerating sunny, dry spots too.
The leaves vary in size from those which are just a few centimetres (couple of inches) long, to the largest which are dinner plate-sized. Just as the sizes vary, so too do the textures of the leaves, from very smooth, through to shiny, dull, matt and even corrugated. Add to these variables the bewildering array of leaf colours and variegations, and one can see why they are among some of our most popular plants.
In summer they produce long stems of small, nodding,-like flowers in shades of lilac, mauve and purple, as well as a few which are pure white. Some selections are even fragrant.
Probably the most popular species of hosta is Hosta fortunei, and one of the most attractive forms is H. fortunei var. albopicta. It has bright yellow leaves distinctively edged with green in spring, which change to all-over green as they age. Meanwhile, H. fortunei var. aureomarginata (syn. H. ‘Fortunei Aureomarginata’) has leaves of a rich dark green with a yellow border, and H. fortunei var. hyacinthina has slightly shiny, small green leaves with long points.
H. crispula is a great favourite, with striking white-margined broad, pointed Hosta Plantain lily dark green leaves. It also offers stems of lilac-purple flowers in mid-summer.
H. decorata has bold ribbed leaves with cream margins; it also produces pale purple flowers. H. elata is among the earliest of hostas to flower, producing pale lilac blooms in the early summer, held aloft pale green matt leaves with wavy edges.
Wavy edged foliage is a characteristic of the varieties of H. undulata. One of the earliest varieties is H. undulata var. albomarginata (also seen sometimes named ‘Thomas Hogg’); it has a strong creamy-white edge to the leaves.
There are several hundred cultivars and hybrid hostas from which to choose, and if you wanted to start a small collection (for they can be addictive plants) you would be well advised to consult one of the growing number of nurseries specializing in them.
Plant hostas in spring, preferably in a place that receives full sun or dappled shade at the most. Mulch in spring or autumn, and give a handful of generalfor each plant in spring. Cut back any dead flower stalks as soon as they have faded, and cut or pull away tattered foliage as soon as it starts to look bad.
Division of hosta clumps during the autumn or spring is the best way to propagate this plant. If you delay carrying out this until the new growths have started to appear in spring, it is possible to prise the clumps away from the main crown of the plant without having to lift the complete thing.
The biggest problem any gardener is likely to have with growing hostas is the damage caused by, which find the leaves delectable. Frequent ‘baiting’ around the plants with proprietary poison-based pellets, gels or tapes is commonplace Gardeners who prefer the organic approach to tackle these often use half grapefruits or small sunken cups containing beer. Both will attract the pests, at which point you can gather them up and dispose of them in the way that suits you. This should be carried out from mid-spring onwards. Failure to do this will result in badly chewed leaves which can soon become an eyesore. Moreover, it will ruin the elegant display which a tightly planted group of different hosta varieties or species can offer.