Our gardens in many lights

mercredi 5 juin 2013

That seemingly inevitable hosta

Cet article en français.
Este artículo en Español 

Giant blue hosta invaded by peppermint. For the curious soul, there is also a black cherry tree and the plant we barely see down on the right corner is comfrey under the tree.
Hostas are plants that abound in the landscaping gardens in Quebec (like elsewhere, I'm sure) : So much so that I find myself very tired of looking at them. They seem to be everywhere! Even the simplest gardens tend to have at least one specimen. It is also a beginner's choice :easy to find on the market, hard to kill, minimum maintenance required, they live for many decades (60 years, apparently), their leafwork is intricate and they almost always look fine, regardless of the soil or the conditions. They tolerate a lot of shade. Furthermore, they come in an array of forms and patterns... Let's add to all this that divisions are not necessary to keep them healthy. These qualities give a lot to please the gardener, indeed. The only apparent drawback seems to be the fondness slugs and deers have for the lush foliage (especially the paler colors) and after these creatures take their fill, what's left is a sad mess.

Mouse Ear variety, a small, round-leafed
specimen that looks like the ear of a mouse.
To give a good comparison, you can spot
spearmint in-between the hosta's leaves and
on the top right corner.

But even with all those qualities, after having two gardens myself - gardens that seemed to have been created solely for hostas - they became to my eye quite unappealing, especially since I only had varieties of a dull, uniform green, plant after plant. At least, that's what I felt like until I learned to know them better.

Hostas and daylillies, 
a classic duo
Together, they surround
my peach tree.
Hosta Sieboldiana "Elegans"
adorned with darling flowers.

Hostas come out in mounds and, depending on the variety, some of them are just the right size to make a cute mouse house while others are big enough to suggest a dinosaur environment. At the beginning of summer, tall stalks shout out of the foliage and they hold 5 to 10 flowers. I'll be honest : I do so fancy the giant hostas with bluish complexions (like the ones on the picture at the top of this article).

 History and observations:
Did you know the hosta was at one point in history named Funkia? You can generally find this name in some work dating from the 19th century. (I have, for example, this book that refers to it as such and the name perplexed me greatly until I figured out funkia and hosta - and plantain lily - were the same. In fact, this particular book was first published in 1870). In England's Victorian Era, this plant was quite the exotic specimen. Indeed, hostas originated from Eastern Asia. About forty different species have been identified and the American Hosta Society have published a list on the internet of more than 6000 registered hybrid varieties created from those species.

Hostas can be found in so many variations, from vibrant green to deep green, golden, silver and lime tones. They can come in uniform colors or variegated (a mix of two, even three colors); there's even some that come in an orangy color at the beginning of the season ('Orange Marmalade') and others that are completely white ('White Feather'); some even have red flower stalks and rosy leaf stems ('Cherry Berry').

The flowers are trumpet shaped, blossoming on the length of a tall stalk, in white, lilac or violet shades of color. The flower has been likened to that of a lily and that's where the English second name for this plant comes from : "Plantain Lily". The flowering period can last up to 8 weeks.
Hosta "Cherry Berry", has red stalks that we unfortunately can't see on this picture. You can spot bee balm trying to make its way around in in-between the large leaves.

"Flower Power ", an enormous
perennial, comes from the crossing of
H. Nigrescens and Hosta Plantaginea.
Its flowering is especially fragrant.
 To give you an idea of the scale, the
daylily "Double Firecracker" that's on
the left can reach 60cm high (2 feets).
Hostas tend to be odorless. One variety can claim to be strongly perfumed : Hosta Plantaginea, a giant of a plant that exudes a bewitching perfume. There's also about a dozen hybrids issued from this hosta that can have a fragrant flowering. "Plantaginea Venus" even has double flowers.

Regarding its environment, one look at the large leaves can inform us on its habit. The plant is more comfortable in shade and half-shade : Indeed, the size of the leaves allow for a maximum of sun absorption. This may also be why I've seen more than one specimen unhappy when in full sun, althought some varieties are quite fine in these conditions. Green leaves can tolerate sun more than their paler cousins.

Hosta leaves make
marvelous bouquets and 
work wonderfully with
bleeding hearts, in a vase
 or in the garden regardless.

And there is more...
All of this is quite nice, but there are still more reasons to have hostas around : First, the leaves make beautiful bouquets for the house and they do last a long time! Furthermore, the tender spring shoots, before unfolding the leaves, can be blanched and eaten like asparagus... their taste being quite similar althought a tad bitter. I tested it this spring and boy, am I not disappointed!
Japanese call hostas "giboshi" and in their cuisine, "urui". They consume the shoots, the leaves and the petiole depending on the variety and the way to prepare them. The english wikipedia site mentions that the flowers are edible too! Isn't this an outstanding discovery (and considering the amount of hostas in Quebec, we could bet this may cost less than asparagus)!
I only harvested each plant once, about a third of the plant was harvested then, in order to preserve its vigour. And I can say that, two to three weeks later, my plants bore no sign of the harvest anymore. Furthermore, it doesn't look like my harvest has affected significantly the timing for its leaves to unfold.

It takes only a couple of minutes to
blanch hosta shoots.

In conclusion, after 8 years of gardening experience now, I do realize that some plants - like hostas - are just waiting to be properly introduced to me. From now on, before snobbing a plant, I will take care to learn about it : Who knows what treasures I will then uncover!

At Louise's, "Krossa Regal" hosta is an imposing specimen of 82 cm (33") high by 178 cm (70") large, the flowering is mauve and the stalks easily reach 150cm (5 foot) and more. Bigger varieties exist yet! Check this site that lists more than 80 varieties of giant hostas.
Their champion is "Gentle Giant", reaching 115 cm (46") high without even counting its flower stalks.

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