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Collect hosta varieties for memorable beauty
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Gardeners, if you have even a little shade, you need to remember the name Cathedral Windows. This is one of the most beautiful hostas in the world.
I need to admit, first, that when I see hostas, I love them all. I run from one to the next, drooling over them and listing their virtues and exclaiming how this one or that one must be the prettiest I've ever seen.
My recent excitement over hostas came about because of Sandra and Ken Fowler's garden in Kosciusko. We were filming several Southern Gardening TV segments at their home, and they use hostas prominently and perfectly in their landscape.
The hosta, or plantain lily, is cold hardy, but its lush, colorful foliage gives a tropical feel to the shade or woodland garden. If you've got shade, this is the ideal collector plant for you.
Cathedral Windows is one of the newest hostas on the market and is a tetraploid of Stained Glass, the 2006 Hosta of the Year. This is a large plant, forming a 3-foot-wide clump that produces 10-by-9-inch leaves with extra wide margins. The late summer-blooming flowers are intensely fragrant.
The Fowlers' garden uses hostas in a variety of ways in containers and in the landscape. Frances Williams, which was No. 1 on the American Hosta Society popularity poll for more than 10 years, was used as an understory planting to giant bananas. This large hosta has blue-green foliage and irregular chartreuse margins.
The blue-green-leafed Elegans was used with a creamy variegated carex, or sedge, as well as the ghostly gray, fine-textured Japanese painted fern. Elegans was the largest hosta in the garden, reaching 30 inches tall and 4 feet wide.
The 2002 Hosta of the Year, Guacamole, gave a bright lime variegation throughout the garden. One of my favorite settings had it combined with Goldilocks lysimachia and black mondo grass, a real cornucopia of texture.
I've only mentioned a few of the hostas in the Fowler garden. Sandra had several more Hosta of the Year-winners like Paul's Glory, Patriot and Stained Glass, and then there was Fried Bananas, an electrifying small hosta that caught my eye with its bright lime foliage.
Hosta beds should be rich in organic matter, so incorporate 3–4 inches of humus or compost to improve drainage and aeration. Sandra, like several other gardeners in the area, uses a lot of composted cotton burr as a rich source of organic material.
While tilling, add 2 pounds per 100 square feet of a 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer with minor nutrients. Plant at the same depth they are growing in the container, placing the crown of the plant slightly above the soil line. Add a good layer of mulch after planting.
Hostas need to be watered during dry periods and fed with light applications of fertilizer every six to eight weeks. The one problem gardeners have with hostas is that slugs like to munch on them. You can help this situation by not watering them in the late afternoon.
Many hosta flowers are fragrant and relished by visiting hummingbirds. Hostas like Cathedral Windows allow you to make exotic combinations in the garden that will create both beauty and interest. Start your collection this weekend.