JARS v52n2 - Hostas: Excellent Companions

Hostas: Excellent Companions
Harry Wright
Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada

Our garden is 16 years old and has been designed for and around rhododendrons. Over the years the little pruning that has been carried out has been very selective, removing only weak and problem branches such as rubbing and low branches forming weak crotches.

In 1996 we had a snowfall of over 5 feet, and this is a great way to turn a large plant into a medium and a medium into a low grower. Last summer was spent pruning and chipping. I have certainly improved the air circulation through the garden and also removed the closing-in effect caused by maturing plants. Plus, I have a lot of mulch that can be returned to the garden. By removing all the low branches I have reclaimed a lot of land. With the garden much more open it has created a perfect location for hostas.

Hostas (genus Hosta ) grow well under the same conditions as rhodos - some shade, light soil and good drainage. I have 20 varieties of hostas, and I use them as fillers between the rhodos in areas that are too compact and too shaded for more rhodos. This is where the hostas thrive. Most of the larger ones are left in place for approximately three to five years and then divided. At dividing time I use a straight edged spade and remove one or two pie shaped pieces on to a new location, after replacing soil in the void just created.

The flowers on hostas are attractive and some are fragrant, but the plant is grown mainly for the foliage which can be various shades of blue, green and gold, in the fall the colour will change once again before being hit by killing frosts. In the fall I always mark the location of each plant before the foliage disappears, and if it happens to be one that I want to divide in the spring I leave a note secured to the stake with instructions as to where the new plants are to be relocated. It's amazing how many little items can be forgotten over a few winter months. Am I the only one who is out in the garden early in the spring digging here and there looking for that favorite perennial to appear, only to find that during the winter some one moved it to a new location, only a few feet away?

Hostas start pushing growth at different times in the spring. While we are waiting for the unsightly foliage of spring bulbs to ripen so we can remove it, along comes the hosta's foliage to hide it. Another use for this very attractive plant is to plant it in pots. As the plant matures foliage helps hide the container, and another dark or drab area can be highlighted.

I will list a few of my favorite hostas:

H. 'Blue Angel' - One of the largest hostas, growing to 4 feet high and 5 feet wide - a slow starter but by the third year it swings into high gear. Flowers are white and the leaves are a greenish blue.

H. fluctuans (variegated) - Heart shaped, twisted leaves, bright yellow margins and frosted gray-green base (also known as H. montana 'Sagae').

H. fluctuans variegated
H. fluctuans (variegated)
Photo by Harry Wright

H. 'Francee' - Forest green leaves with a tidy, bright white margin. A neat grower.

H. 'Frances Williams' - A large plant, leaves blue-green with a wide yellow irregular margin.

H. 'Golden Tiara' - a small plant, fast grower, heart shaped green leaves with a neat green edge.

H. 'Great Expectations' - Another slow grower, wider than high, ever changing shades of gold, white and green leaves that are round and puckered, flowers white.

H. 'Halcon' - One of the good shades of blue, matures into a medium sized plant.

H. 'Sum and Substance' - Leaves are thick and well displayed, colour is green changing to greenish gold by fall.

H. 'Sum and Substance'
H. 'Sum and Substance'
Photo by Harry Wright

H. 'Wide Brim' - Blue-green mid-leaf with a very wide margin of cream changing to gold as the summer ends.

H. 'Paul's Glory' - This is a close reverse to 'Wide Brim', cream to gold center with blue-green margin.

There are varieties very similar in colour but their form and growing habits are different so there shouldn't be any problem finding the form and size required to fill in that special area. This very versatile perennial that is cold hardy, drought and shade tolerant, also performs well as a ground cover.

The credentials just stated should entitle the genus Hosta to join every garden as an excellent companion for the ever popular rhododendron.

Harry Wright is a member of the North Island Chapter.