Using Hostas In The Garden

Using Hostas In The Garden

Part of Ep. 1201 Melting Pot Pledge Special

Shelley Ryan explores the versatility of hosta with John Elsley who gained his experience as a botanist for the Royal Horticultural Society in Great Britain.

Premiere date: Mar 06, 2004

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Ryan:
I used to think I hated hostas. They were only green and white. They were only on the edges of sidewalks and driveways. And they were boring. Boy, was I mistaken. I'm very lucky today to have with me, John Elsley. John is the Director of Horticulture for Roy Klehm's Songsparrow Perennial Farm in Avalon, Wisconsin. John, as we both know hostas are enormously popular now. Let's talk about some of the many reasons why.

John Elsley:
Well, I think, Shelley they are probably the most versatile of all herbaceous perennial plants.

Ryan:
So, they're high on your list, then?

Elsley:
Yeah, very high because they have tremendous ornamental value not only for their magnificent foliage the color of the foliage, the shape of the foliage and the texture of the foliage. Look at the puckering of this leaf for example. This is Hosta Blue Angel.

Ryan:
Seersucker. You just want to stroke it; it's beautiful.

Elsley:
And in contrast to these leaves look at, for example, this new variety called Praying Hands.

Ryan:
Wow, look at that. That's so different.

Elsley:
Very ornamental kind of effect, isn't it? And then look at Dream Weaver, for example. I know you commented on that earlier.

Ryan:
That's mine!

Elsley:
Look at the different greens in this leaf contrasting with the yellow center.

Ryan:
Look at that! They look painted almost.

Elsley
They do. Another beautifully colored foliage is called Loyalist. Look at the crispness of those leaves.

Ryan:
Look at all the differences here.

Elsley
And the contrast is just remarkable.

Ryan:
You said one way that they are being used that I never though of is in a bouquet.

Elsley:
The foliage makes a wonderful addition to other flowers in an arrangement or by itself.

Ryan:
Look at that. I mean, just like that.

Elsley:
While I was talking, of course, in addition to the foliage are the flowers of the hostas.

Ryan:
We tend to forget those.

Elsley:
Many of the new breeding programs with these plants are being focused on bringing fragrance in the flowers.

Ryan:
Wow, so we've got foliage. We've got fragrance. What do I have to do to keep them happy in my garden?

Elsley:
Their basic, cultural needs are simple. They prefer a shady location. Many of them will tolerate fairly heavy shade. A bit of morning sun, in many cases, does no harm. Soil is critical. It must be well-drained. It must be moisture-attentive. A soil that has good levels of organic matter is important. They don't, for example, like light soil.

Ryan:
And pests, not too many?

Elsley:
Very, very few and far between. Slugs, of course, are noted with hostas, but they're fairly easily controlled. The method, of course, would be beer in a saucer. It's actually very good.

Ryan:
What are some of your favorite uses in the landscape? You've talked about their versatility.

Elsley:
I think one of the newer-- people are realizing the value if you use them in containers like we have here.

Ryan:
Containers?

Elsley:
This is a large blue leafed variety. Look at how it dominates this particular setting.

Ryan:
Wow!

Elsley:
It's the Blue Angel again.

Ryan:
It's beautiful in that pot!

Elsley:
It looks beautiful and of course, in great contrast in size look at Pandora's Box.

Ryan:
That's a hosta also? Look at the difference!

Elsley:
And of course, in containers they're very well adapted to patios and decks for people who don't have large gardens.

Ryan:
So I don't have to have a garden to enjoy hostas.

Elsley:
I would say that in containers, you have to be careful to make sure they have adequate moisture. At the same time I would feed them once or twice a year starting in early spring with a slow-release fertilizer.

Ryan:
Okay, well now you've got one right next to you that looks perfectly normal to me, not even very exciting. Yet, you said it has a surprise.

Elsley:
Yes, it has a surprise. As you lift the leaves up--

Ryan:
Oh look at that!

Elsley:
The coloring. It's called Red October actually, very aptly named.

Ryan:
I don't think I've ever seen that on a hosta before.

Elsley:
Here we are in late spring and that attractive feature is rightway through to fall.

Ryan:
Wonderful. See, I wouldn't even think of that. Now, you also have a tip, you said, that makes it easy to learn how to use a hosta.

Elsley:
Let's just go over here and I'll show you what I mean and how we can use hostas in combination with other plants.

Ryan:
Good!

Elsley:
The versatility, Shelley, of hostas in the landscape can be adequately demonstrated by the fact that they can be grown even just in combinations by themselves.

Ryan:
And they're beautiful that way, sure.

Elsley
Certainly, with their various types of leaves. Or, I think exceptionally in combination with other plants that require similar growing conditions. If we take a plain-colored leaf variety like this blue one, and just set it in there.

Ryan:
Look at that!

Elsley:
See how a very simple and very effective combination is achieved between the foliage.

Ryan:
You changed the whole pattern of the bed there. That's beautiful!

Elsley:
Yes, and again, if we take an even greater contrast by using this variegated variety which we talked about earlier, called Loyalist, I mean that's just quite stunning.

Ryan:
I've never thought of taking pots and plopping them into other plantings and stepping back to see what it looks like.

Elsley:
One is limited in their use only by one's imagination.

Ryan:
Well then I'm going to have to get my imagination in my backyard! You've given me some great ideas. John, I have one last question. Your accent isn't what I'd usually expect for Wisconsin.

Elsley:
Well, no. I'm surprised you picked that up. I've been living and working in this country now for 33 years but I originally came from Britain where I trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and worked for the Royal Horticultural Society as botanist of their gardens at Wisley. I'm sure both these institutions are known to many of your viewers here in Wisconsin. And if visiting England and people haven't visited these two great gardens I'd recommend it.

Ryan:
Well, it's on my list. Thank you for bringing your training to all of us here. Thank you very much.

Elsley
Well, it's exciting. I'm excited at the potential of gardening in the United States.

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