BY Kath Laliberte for Longfield Gardens
If you grow hostas, you probably have more than one variety in your garden. Mixing and matching foliage colors, leaf sizes and textures is part of what makes them so fun to grow.
My own shade garden includes more than a dozen different varieties and I definitely have some favorites. Over time, I’ve discovered some qualities that separate the good from the great.
Part of what makes a hosta great is how well it fits into the space you give it. For small spaces, look for miniature hostas, such as Blue Mouse Ears or Mighty Mouse. These plants mature at 6 to 10″ tall, and are fun to use in containers.
Others varieties, such as Big Daddy and Bressingham Blue, can grow to be waist high and up to 4 feet across. These big-leaved hostas can cover a lot of ground very quickly and are great for underplanting trees.
Most varieties of hostas fall somewhere in between, growing 12 to 18″ tall. With size being so variable, it’s important to choose hostas with your head as well as your heart. Always check the description so you know the mature height and width.
Hostas such as Halcyon and Sum and Substance have foliage that’s a single color. Equally popular are variegated hostas, with foliage that displays two or more colors. This variegation may be subtle, as with hosta Francee’s fine white edge, or bold and dramatic as with Blue Ivory or Lakeside Dragonfly.
When you’re making choices about foliage color and variegation, consider the overall design of the area, as well as your personal preferences. Here are a couple suggestions.
If you’re filling a large area with a dozen or more hostas, plant them in irregular groups featuring three or more plants of the same variety. This will give the planting a sense of flow rather than a choppy stop-start.
When planting more than one type of variegated hosta, separate them with non-variegated varieties to help create a sense of pacing and calm. There are many solid-colored hostas to choose from, with interesting variations in leaf size, color and surface texture.
Most hostas look their best during May and early June, when the foliage is fresh and vigorous. But a really great hosta will maintain its good looks right through August and into the fall.
Generally speaking, I find that the thicker the leaves, the more durable the hosta. Varieties with thicker-than-average leaves are less susceptible to damage from wind and rain. They are also more resistant to hosta loving pests such as slugs and snails.
The texture of the leaves also has a role in durability. Leaves that are puckered or deeply ribbed like corduroy, have extra toughness against wear and tear. There are also some varieties, such as Catherine and June, that have super-smooth leaves with an almost vinyl-like coating.
Ready to find a few new favorites? See below for four of mine. Please share some of your own in the comments section below.
Hosta plantaginea ‘Aphrodite’
Though this hosta’s relatively thin, medium green leaves and informal growth habit don’t meet the qualities for greatness outlined above, the large and intensely fragrant, gardenia-like flowers make it a must-have.
In late summer, Hosta plantaginea (commonly known as August lily) displays its snow-white blossoms on sturdy, 2-foot stems that rise well above the foliage. The cultivar shown above is ‘Aphrodite’, a double version of the species. Hosta plantaginea is also one of the most heat-tolerant hostas available.
Hosta ‘Blue Ivory’
This variety features thick, slug-resistant leaves with a bold contrast between the wide, creamy white margins and blue-green centers. Really sparkles in the shade. Mature size is small to medium.
This hosta has extra-thick leaves with a pretty shape and a tough surface. Each leaf displays three distinctly different greens. Grows slowly and stays compact.
Hosta ‘Liberty’ – This hosta’s big, broad leaves are as thick as cardboard. The leaf margins are buttery yellow in spring and gradually soften to cream. The plants have an upright habit (18″ tall) and stand strong all season long. Wonderful specimen plant.