Sunday, November 21, 2010


Let’s face it – we live on the eastern side of the country’s main mountain ranges and the weather comes from the west.  That means we live in a rain shadow and that little fact should act as a guide as to what we plant in our gardens – but of course, it doesn’t! 
If we live in a dry zone where we should be planting Mediterranean and Australian shrubs, we naturally want to construct gardens out of rhododendrons and hostas, while those gardeners who inhabit wetter regions like Taranaki yearn to grow bearded irises, lavenders and sun-loving plants.  It is just human nature to be contrarian I guess.
I do not grow huge numbers of hostas but I do have a row of healthy specimens filling up a long thin south-facing bed along the front of house.  The bed was so narrow I could not think of anything else that would cope with the peculiar conditions that a cool but dry situation offered.  They have flourished and steadily increased to such as extent that I can divide the plants up every few years and take small colonies to plant in other parts of the garden.
The best of these plants is a delightful blue foliaged form I grew from seed about twenty years ago.  A friend had an extensive country garden and wanted to bulk up some areas in shade with mass plantings of hostas.  The garden was on a large sheep station tot he eats of Masterton, and the gardener’s wife was a very tolerant man – he had to be as the home paddocks kept disappearing into the garden! – but his acceptance of the expanding garden did not stretch to buying hundreds of hostas as about $10 each. 
As we were discussing the problem she said she had lots of need on her plants, so I asked her to bring some in and we sowed them into big seed boxes, and eventually pricked out many hundreds of plants, none of the named varieties of course, but many of them perfectly fine for the garden, and some quite pretty forms.
I gave my friend hundreds of plants, but still had plenty to grow of for myself, best of which were the blue ones, which resembled the popular H. sieboldiana ‘Glauca’ perhaps the best known of the older blue forms. Blue varieties are very much in fashion at the moment being the best selling forms, sometimes with a golden variegation.   If you like large leaved forms then ‘Big Daddy’ is probably as good as any, but if you would prefer a smaller form for the edge of the border, ‘Hadspen Blue’ is  lovely little plant with the most gorgeous blue-green foliage with summer spikes of pale lavender flowers above the foliage.
I am not absolutely sure but I think one of my other forms is the old favourite ‘Thomas Hogg’, also known as Hosta undulata ‘Albo marginata’.  This variety with green leaves edged with a bright white margin and was supposedly introduced to western horticulture by the New York nurseryman Thomas Hogg in 1875.  Hogg, who was a great fan of hostas, or Funkias as they were then known, had spent a lot of time in Japan, seeking out new varieties for his nursery.  This old variety does not have the strong foliage of more modern hybrids, and as such is a little prone to slug attacks, but it is reliably hardy and will even cope with more or less full sun as long as the soil is not too thin and does not dry out too much.

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