R. A. Smith

Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Ontario Hosta Society.   The article appears as originally published.  Editor:  Stephen Douglas


It appears to me that there are three general categories of dedicated hosta enthusiasts that can be identified upon visiting their garden.  Most are sane people with well-adjusted outlooks who employ the hosta as a major part of the overall landscape design.  In these gardens, the serious hosta connoisseur will have perfectly grown hostas that fully complement the shade garden.  Mass plantings of edger hostas will be of all the same size and color setting off a garden bed with well executed landscape design.  Some rare specimen plants will be beacons for visitors, a large yellow here, and a giant originator stock hosta over there.  These are the gardens that we all love to visit. 

Then there’s the hosta collector which may manifest in theme plants of hostas.  You can pick these out when you see monoculture plantings with common names, moon gardens, a collection of Van Wade’s Native American series, many sports of a common type, and for the more dedicated, all the available tardiflorias (TF-1 to n) planted in numerical sequence – that’s a difficult task with the best of contacts.

Lastly, there is the over the top hostaholics that has either breezed through or right past these two sane categories—in these gardens, the plots will contain incomprehensible alphanumeric labels along with named plants with “NR” and “OS” following them – few of which you can find in “The Hostapedia” tome.  You’ll see plants and wonder to yourself, this must have been a missed cull along with 64 plants of the same look and size growing in wind rows cooking under the mid-day sun.  These gardens can be referred to as the Eagle Nebula of the hosta world, where new stars are born but they can also be the pitfall of many a hobbyist that didn’t see the warning signs of a slippery slope—this story attempts to better describe this latter stage of hosta addiction – let’s look behind Monty’s curtain #3… 

The Twelve Stages of Hosta Addiction: 

1) Purchase an H. ‘Undulata’ from the local box store in order to cover a shady garden spot under a tree – toss the tag—call it the green and white one.  This is how it all gets started and most sensible gardeners stop here.  If it grows well and other mysterious forces come into play, a select few progress to step two. 

2) Buy a couple more hostas from the local nursery based on the cute names.  Plant two H. ‘Blue Angel’ right next to H. ‘Blue Cadet’ since they look like each other at this stage of growth.  All tags are tossed out with the recyclables along with the pots.  Notice how nice two of them seem to be growing. 

3) Discover that there are more than three hosta types and achieve Zen status when a large yellow is found.  Mistake H. ‘Sagae’ for the “green and white one” already in the garden so pass it by at the nursery.  Start to worry that the little blue one (H. ‘Blue Cadet’) is being swallowed up by its overgrown neighbors. 

4) Find the Hosta Library and become instantly overwhelmed with all the different cultivars.  Pick out the rarest of the group and decide that’s exactly the one in the garden without a tag – make a quick label and mark it.  Figure out that voles and deer like after dinner hosta snacks.  Start to tire of the evening watering routine on the hot summer days. 

5) Start buying all the different hosta plants at the local nursery -- keeping the tags now – plant them in full sun as well as shade.  Find that there’s actually a book or two dedicated to hostas and buy them from the on-line book store (who then tells you about all the other related publications).  Notice that some hostas produce seeds but alas, they go into the compost bin when the squirrels are done munching them.  Pictures of the “No Tag” plants are offered up for identification to the experts.  You take pictures of the deer that are visiting the garden, how nice.  You manage the deer and vole damaged the best you can and replace plants they destroy each year.  This is the step maintained by well-adjusted gardeners. 

At this point, if the majority of below symptoms apply, you may be sliding into the abyss--be warned, hostholism can be a source of self-actualization and new friendships although at the same time, it will also be costly in time, garden space, and perhaps sanity. 

6) Join the local and regional hosta society followed by a membership to the AHS for the great tri-annual journal.  Mail Order specialty catalogues are “bookmarked” on your internet browser.  Long wish lists start with the header “Need List.”  You buy your third hosta book and start seeking out all the others.  You bid on the out of print Zilis e-bay 1991 signed publication.  Out-of-state garden visits become part of your annual routine to and from other destinations.  Plant pictures are posted routinely onto the various web forums.  You receive a mail order nursery gift certificate from the dear spouse who believes your new found hobby is wonderful.  New plants arrive weekly in the spring from the winter’s “downtime.”  You’re thinking about taking out a bounty on the local deer population but install new fencing and use organic sprays instead. 

7) The hosta garden surpasses 250 named cultivars.  A few special gift plants are well placed as a special joy as a reminder to a great event or person – this is good.  Digging up half the lawn or trying to tame a 45 degree sloping back yard may be over the top but you do it anyway.  The spouse is wondering when it’ll stop and starts tossing out the new catalogues when they arrive.  AHS National Convention attendance is planned and you seek out Mark, Mike, and George for book signing opportunities.  New stainless steel or plastic plant markers start to replace all the makeshift plant tags of past.  Metal mesh cages are placed in the ground around the roots of the special plants.  A bang gun is heard going off in the evening by the neighbors. 

8) “You mean the seeds can be grown” is a question that can put one over the edge.  In this stage of addiction, streaker madness sets in.  On line auctions become your after dark bane of existence.  You join the seed grower’s forum and make a plant growing shelf in the basement.  The neighbors call the Police due to the strange glow coming from the basement windows 24-hour-a-day.  You start the slow process to convince the spouse that an automatic sprinkler system in the yard would mean more dinner outings in the summer instead of watering chores.  You keep 500 greenies and a few variegated seedlings the first year with no room in the existing garden plots to grow them.  The spouse is concerned and seeks outside help for your addiction.  You raid the back rooms at the local nursery for tossed plastic pots to use for the seedlings as they gain size.  You start to dream up hosta names for “when the time is right” to register your first plant.  You ask the spouse to help dig up the remaining lawn for another “little hosta garden.” 

9) Sport fishing trips become the norm when visiting a nursery.  If a major wholesaler is nearby, you’re on first name basis with the plant manager.  Seeds are no longer bought but traded or sold to the poor souls slipping in at stage 8.  The winter months are spent tending the seedlings and vacations are cancelled so that the little ones don’t dry out.  Fungal gnats become well known household pests.  There’s an anonymous bounty on the local buck that invades your garden at night. 

10) The seedlings grown are as good as anything on the market is now a common thought at this stage.  Garden names have been assigned.  You’ve actually read all the way through “The Genus Hosta” tome and have dog-eared the section on plant breeding.  A new macro lens may be purchased at this stage in order to take better seedling pictures—a sure sign you’re going in deep.  Many hostas have been dug up and replanted with root and vole barriers.  Your new dog is doing a good job keeping the deer in check but the bang gun is still near the door. 

11) You register your first plant and share OS pieces with your hosta friends – the friendship plant concept now becomes most evident.  Off-hand discussions with your hosta friends may include phrases as “So, do you believe inhibitor genes caused that trait to appear?” or “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a tetraploid – look at that substance” followed shortly by “Did you see that new splashed plant in the vending area and the price?  I have a whole batch of seedlings better than that thing.”  You have cages around your best breeders to keep the rabbits, deer, and squirrels away during pollination season.  A small backyard greenhouse is looking like something you must have. 

12) Your seed growing knowledge is sought by others at this stage of addiction.  Other possible symptom to watch for:  you are asked to write articles for the journal documenting your hybridizing experiences, success and pitfalls along the way.  You dream that you’ll become rich and famous in the hosta world (well, maybe not rich as you’ve probably spent $10,325 at this time and ruined your back digging up the lawn all to sell a single plant for $400).  With help, you may recover from the insanity and revert back to Step 7 although the number of hostas hover around 600 by now.  If there’s any lawn left, you concede that the kids and dog need some space to play.  The automatic sprinklers are doing a nice job keeping everything green.  Vacations are now possible once again although the mail order catalogs are still disappearing shortly after arrival—plant gift certificates are no longer considered.  You start looking at the neighbor’s poorly growing lawn under their oak trees – yes, that’d be a good place to plant some of these seedlings….

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