The Humble Hosta

When discussing possible landscape solutions with Suzie, she soon reached her exasperation limit and metaphorically threw her texting fingers up in defeat, saying something like ‘Why don’t we just plant hostas everywhere and call it a day.’ At first I bristled at the intimation – then I realized it wasn’t a bad idea. Despite its overuse in the mainstream garden, the hosta, when properly cared for and pampered, is one of the most handsome plants in existence, one whose beauty holds throughout the entire season. Most perennials have a month or two of glory, but very few can maintain their luster from spring all the way to fall. A hosta’s foliage doesn’t diminish at any point.

They send up bonus lavender stalks of lily-like fragrant blooms in the middle of summer, though these are mostly subtle afterthoughts – the main draw is their leaves.

Suzie’s cutting remark got me to thinking about my own hesitation in using them, and I realized it’s partly from her childhood home, where a large stand of hosta surrounded a sun-dial in the middle of a circular stone path. They grew cramped and unfertilized beneath the shade of an old elm, and despite their hardy return year after year, they never, to my knowledge, received any additional help. The leaves were variegated but on the small side – quantity giving preference of quality. It was the typical use of them – in difficult areas where they could easily survive but not thrive to their full potential.

I’d become accustomed to putting them in places that proved inhospitable to more delicate choices, but they always rewarded with displays that got larger and fuller and more beautiful with each passing year, particularly when I indulged them with ample manure in the spring, deadheading in the summer, and some simple foliage maintenance throughout the year (the leaves grow so big and broad, they become a catch-all for falling detritus).

This year, even after Suzie’s disparaging comment, I added four hosta plants to a tricky place beside our backyard patio. It’s partly shaded thanks to the canopy, and has, for some reason, proven reliably difficult to successfully curate. Shade loving annuals like coleus and caladium have failed to prosper, and it’s been ravaged by the pesky roots of a weeping cherry standard. We will see if the hosta can fill in and win the day. I’m confident they shall.

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