Hostas were a favorite of my mother-in-law. I, on the other hand, was only vaguely aware of them, having seen them before but paid little attention. Once it became clear that the front yard next to the porch was always going to be shaded, I became interested in hostas.
I really don’t like variegated plants—they seem too noisy. This, of course, complicated my search for hostas because the usual places one buys plants carried mostly variegated ones. Better Homes & Gardens came to the rescue. An article on shade plants mentioned a “Sum and Substance” hosta that grew to be up to 72 inches in diameter. There was no six-foot space for it, but I was intrigued nonetheless. Encouraged that others besides variegated ones existed, I began my search. Be careful what you wish for. You see, the last thing a newbie in any field needs is too many choices. Simple is always better.
Soon I learned there was a local hosta society, and looking through their website, I found a list of local growers who specialized in hostas. Wow. At that point, about two weeks before the plastic would be removed, I had never been to a garden store besides Home Depot. Buying from an actual grower was like wandering down an aisle in Home Depot looking for a screw—it’s encouraging because there are so many and discouraging because there are so many.
The first place I visited was a 45-minute drive northwest of town. It sat on a deeply-shaded, gently-slopping hillside. The owner was a very nice lady who had about 20-30 types of hostas. After agonizing over them for too long, I chose maybe five or six and then discovered she took only cash or checks. I had only 20.00 with me, but she still let me take all the plants! She said I could send her a check, and she didn’t even bother to ask my name or for any ID. That floored me. I sent a check as soon as I got home and called two days later to make sure she got it. She had and seemed amused I was so concerned.
The next place was a 30-minute drive south of the city in Tyrone, Georgia. It was down a few back roads and was immense. They had over 100 varieties. Not knowing much about hostas, it took quite a while to read the labels and check for maximum sizes to make sure they fit my space. I bought twelve.
Since I had too many to put in the front yard, five went to the back. Next, I spent a couple of hours measuring the front yard space, reviewing the sunlight patterns, and deciding how to group them so that each would have enough space. Here are the groups.
Front Yard Twelve
Twist of Lime
Sum and Substance
Sum and Substance
After planting, they sat there with little indication they were happy for about three weeks, then took off. Five years later, I’ve lost Praying Hands and Minuteman; Stiletto looks shaky. Praying Hands was wiped out by its neighbors, all of which grew to be 30% larger (or more) than predicted. For some reason, I never got around to moving it.
Minuteman and Stiletto are victims of local climate change. When I planted them, there was a huge tree providing shade from early morning until noon. After that tree was removed by the city, the sunlight became the enemy. The others are thriving and happy. The front yard group has done well, and while larger than expected, they have not outgrown their space.
The backyard group is a hardy bunch. Both the Sum and Substance and the Blue Angel have grown to be at least six-feet across from the third year on. The other three are thriving too. Oddly, I water the front group regularly but only rarely have I done the same for the backyard group, yet they seem to be the most robust. It’s especially puzzling because I planted them around the base of a 60-foot tall sweet gum tree, which had to be cut down two years ago. With the tree gone, I gave them up for lost, assuming 4-5 hours of direct Georgia sun would kill them in short order. Nope. Even with hours of direct sun and little water from me, they are doing fine. Go figure.
Hostas bloom reliably, but the only regular visitors are iridescent blue-green dragonflies that seem to absolutely love them. All things considered, the hostas have been the most successful thing I’ve planted. They are thriving and lush, and I see why my mother-in-law loved them so much. She would look at each one with pure delight every time she visited.