‘War Paint’ for the garden: Hosta will last all year

According to David Fishman “Gardening is experimenting; nothing is permanent.” Fishman has moved plants, removed plants and created new beds to create a wonderland of texture and color especially by using his passion, the genus Hosta.

Hosta are herbaceous perennials that were introduced to Europe in the late 1700s from China and Korea. There are hundreds of true species and there are literally thousands of registered named varieties in about 70 categories. Fishman’s garden is filled with hundreds of different varieties with such fanciful names as ‘Elvis Lives,’ ‘Fire Island’ and ‘War Paint.’ He has artfully intermixed them with stately Arisaema, frothy ferns, bunchberry, Heuchera and many other rare as well as common woodland plants. Azaleas, begonias and fuchsia provide counterpoints of red.

The leaves are the main things about Hosta. They are bold, bright and infinitely changing. They can be long and thin or short and round; flat, seersuckered, wavy, ribbed or concave. They can be as small as an inch tall or as large as the 9-foot-tall ‘Sum and Substance’ that grows in an Ohio garden. The leaves can be green, quite bluish, yellow, chartreuse, solid or variegated with white, yellow, dark and light greens. Those with bluish tones look that way due to thin covering with a waxy substance. Although some growers cut them off, the flowers can be white, blue, lavender or purple. Hosta plantaginea, one of the species, has heavily scented white flowers and this characteristic is used for breeding.

Fishman has carefully layered his Hostas, with the tall ones in the back, the short ones in front. The colors of the leaves are carefully contrasted so that each plant stands out, yet the mass is pleasing in both texture and rhythm. He has intermixed old stumps, trees and other plants for further interest. The overall impression is of a fairyland of beauty and design.

Most of the plants do best in shade or part shade but the gold and yellow-leaved plants will lose color in shade so need more sun. The fragrant Hostas develop stronger fragrance if given sufficient sun. Trees, both tall and intermediate, surround Fishman’s garden giving shade and dappled shade.

The genus is genetically unstable, so will often mutate creating what is called a “sport” in horticulture. Most new Hostas occur from this tendency, so don’t be surprised if you walk out in your garden one day and see leaves on your solid color Hosta edged in white or green or showing an entirely different color. If this occurs, celebrate and divide the plant in the spring (you may need a saw or an ax) keeping the area with the new color separate from the rest. If it remains stable, you can even register it with the American Hosta Society. The clumps should be divided when too large, also. Hostas transplant easily.

Maybe it is the bold leaves of the plant, their hardiness, or perhaps it is because they can be attacked when dividing that appeals to men. In any case, more men than women are Hosta specialists, according to Fishman.

These plants, like most woodland dwellers need rich, moist organic soil and occasional fertilizing. A top mulch of composted dairy manure each spring will be welcomed by your plants and you will be rewarded by lush growth. They are generally low-maintenance deciduous perennials that emerge from dormancy in mid-spring. Their main pests are deer, rabbit and vole but most of all: slugs. Slugs can be controlled through environmentally safe iron phosphate slug bait like Worry Free, Sluggo or Escargo. If you can stand to empty the slimy mess, slugs are also highly attracted to saucers of beer. The beer needs to be replaced almost daily to be effective.

Find a place in your garden for a few Hostas. By themselves or integrated with other woodland dwellers, they grow lush in our benevolent Northwest growing conditions.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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