|By: Elisabeth Ginsburg - About Elisabeth
What’s in a name? Consider the hosta or plantain lily, known until the mid twentieth century as “funkia”. It’s not surprising that the plant attained superstar status only after its name became a little less “funky”.
Of course plant breeders also played their role in the rise of the hosta. During the last couple of decades the plants, which work so well in the shade, have been the subject of lots of breeding work. Now the number of hosta varieties on the market boggles the mind, with some that are so similar to each other that even their own breeders have trouble telling them apart. While it is hard to find a really bad hosta, some have more winning qualities than others. With a little research you can create a whole garden of hostas with variations in size, texture, flower and leaf color and bloom time.
Hosta fortunei is a heavily populated species, named in honor of nineteenth century English plant collector Robert Fortune. The plants grow about fourteen inches tall, with a twenty-four-inch spread. Generally the flowers are pale to medium lavender without a noticeable fragrance. Some of the most exciting cultivars are those with variegated foliage, including ‘Aureomarginata’, with deep green leaves edged in creamy gold, and ‘Gold Standard’, which has golden-green leaves edged in darker green. Hosta fortunei ‘Fire and Ice’ gives both light and movement to the garden with its broad dramatic white leaves edged in green. ‘Francee’ impresses more quietly; the green leaves are rimmed with narrow white edging bands.
Hosta sieboldiana, named after a nineteenth century German botanist, is an exceptionally large-leafed species, notable for the blue-green leaf color and the puckered seersucker-like texture of the foliage. The best known sieboldiana is probably ‘Elegans’, which has the characteristic forty-eight to sixty inch spread. Another cultivar, ‘Francis Williams’, has the same bluish leaves with golden green edges. Somewhat smaller than other sieboldianas, ‘Great Expectations’ is more suitable for limited spaces. The leaves are predominately creamy yellow with the blue-green edges that distinguish the species.
Hosta lancifolia or lance-leafed hosta has medium size green leaves that are elongated rather than rounded like those of Hosta sieboldiana. It makes an excellent green groundcover. Another interesting species is Hosta undulata, with undulating or wavy leaf edges. Two green and white-variegated undulata cultivars, ‘Variegata’ and ‘Albomarginata’ add to the waves of excitement.
Most hosta flowers are not noted for fragrance but ‘Royal Standard’ a hybrid of the old favorite, Hosta plantaginea, has fragrant white trumpets. This hosta blooms in August, somewhat later than other species and hybrids. A group or two of sweet-scented ‘Royal Standard’ within a larger planting of unscented hosta makes an ordinary shade bed immeasurably more attractive and exciting.
A successful hosta bed can contain a wide swathe of one variety or a crazy quilt of blue, green, gold and variegated cultivars. The choice may be difficult, but the upkeep will be easy. Use slug baits or traps to ward off the hosta’s natural predators. Supplemental water is rarely necessary. Praise from garden visitors will be frequent.