Monday, April 21, 2008

Lotsa Hosta

As you've likely figured out by now, I haven't met too many plants I don't like. For the few plants that do fall into the "don't like" category, I "don't like" them just as passionately as I "do like" the ones that I do--which is most of them. Are you thoroughly confused by that? Just making sure you're awake. The long and short of it is, there's a pretty clear cut line between the plants that I do like (which is most of them) and the plants I don't (a status reserved for an unfortunate few). I was noticing this morning that the hostas are looking particularly smashing right now, so I thought I'd mention a few that I've grown to love over the years--those which fall into the "do like" category. Here it goes.

Up at the very top of the list is a stunner called 'Golden Sculpture'. I like big hostas. I like small ones, too, but it's the big ones that really get my heart racing. Unfortunately, in the heat of the South, not all of them attain the magnificent size they do in the North. Actually, truth be known, almost none of them do. 'Golden Sculpture' is (almost) an exception to that rule and not only does it attain some size here in the South, it does it in short order--another great attribute. Alot of the big guys are paaaiiiinfully slow down here (and the big hostas are, too). It must be that laidback Southern way of life. Anyway, 'Golden Sculpture' has just outdone itself in every garden I've planted it in, forming a 2 1/2-foot tall, 5-6 foot wide, upright, golden-foliaged, architectural clump in only 3-4 years time from a one gallon pot. Pretty good for one of the big guys.

A few years back, when 'Guacamole' was introduced, I knew we had a hit on our hands! I've been proven right by its outstanding performance, at least here in middle Tennessee and my clumps just keep getting better with time. The great thing is, 'Guacamole' has proven to be a good parent, too! Some great sports have arisen directly from it, as have some great hybrid offspring. Some of the better ones include 'Fried Bananas', an all-gold sport, 'Fried Green Tomatoes', an all green sport and 'Holy Mole', a more robust version of its parent with heavier leaves and more intense variegation. Perhaps the best of all, though, is 'Stained Glass'--a 'Guacamole' mutation that is supremely vigorous, with thick leathery leaves and brilliant gold and green coloration! No shade garden should be without this plant. To top it off (literally), fragrant lavender flowers rise well above the foliage in late summer.

On the smaller side, perhaps the finest miniature hosta ever to come along is 2008's Hosta of the Year, 'Blue Mouse Ears'. You guessed it! When the leaves unfurl they look just exactly like a little clump of blue mouse ears. And wait until you see the new variegated sport called 'Cat and Mouse' with chartreuse centers on a brilliant blue background. Be still my beating heart! Speaking of miniatures, if you're into truly tiny plants you definitely should check out Hosta 'Pandora's Box'. In just over a decade, this little plant has gained star status in the hosta world, having originally sold for $600 at the 1997 hosta convention and now appearing in gardens everywhere! It is truly one of my favorites and has simply outdone itself in a trough garden where it's easier to keep the slugs and snails at bay.

Remember not to judge hostas by what they look like in the pot. Most of them have, for lack of a better term, a "juvenile" form and an "adult" form and these two forms often vary greatly in their appearance. Case in point, Hosta 'June'. For many years I asked "Why would anyone want to grow that? It's not very pretty." Then I planted one in a client's garden. The second year I was as unimpressed as I was the first. The third year was moderately better, so instead of composting it, I gave it one more chance. In her fourth spring, 'June' was a bustin' out all over, as they say, and the rest is history. Now I wouldn't be without her. The same goes for some of our most popular hostas like 'Strip Tease', 'Hanky Panky', 'Paul's Glory', 'Paradise Glory' and the perhaps slightly lesser-known, but beautiful, 'Captain Kirk'. It goes for nearly all hostas, really.

You know the old saying, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap." Well, it's true. And sometimes it takes them until the 4th or even the 5th year before they really develop into the fully mature forms that the pretty picture on the tag shows. So my advice is, "Don't give up," and give them a bare minimum of three years in the ground before you start passing judgment on them.

Some new varieties (new to me, but not necessarily new to the industry) that I'm trying are 'Old Glory', 'Prairie Fire', 'Corkscrew', 'Ginsu Knife' and 'Liberty'. By the way, if you happen to run into 'Liberty' at the nursery, buy it immediately! It is a brighter and more boldly variegated form of the magnificent 'Sagae' and is absolutely glowing in my garden right now. It gets big and it gets their in fairly short order. My three-year-old clump is probably going to be somewhere between 3 and 4 feet across this season from an original single-eye division in a one-gallon pot. Not bad. Not bad at all.

I am by no means a hosta collector. I only have about 25-30 plants, but I like to think that I have reasonably discerning taste and I'm also fairly hard-nosed about the fact that the plants must be vigorous and robust. I'm not one to sit around waiting for ten years while some pathetic little plant develops at a snail's pace into a mediocre offering in the shade garden, where space is at a premium. The ones I mentioned above are few of my top performers and I'm sure there will be more to come in the very near future.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rare Beauty

Once in a while you time it just right. You're in the right place, at the right time and you actually have the camera in hand! Such was the case the day I was at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in October of 2006. It just so happened that I was visiting on one of only a handful of days that their variegated ginkgo was in its full autumn glory. Those of you who are familiar with ginkgo know that the fall color is stunning, but fleeting. They color up seemingly over night, they show off for a few days to maybe a couple of weeks and then, as quickly as they showed their color, they drop every leaf on the ground. One day they're there and then next, gone. Poof! So I lucked out. I was in the right place at the right time and the accompanying image is the result. And people wonder why I find plants so fascinating.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blazing Hot Euphorbia

I have to tell you about another favorite plant. I'm sure you've figured out by now that there are an abundance of favorites, but the reasons that certain plants become favorites vary from plant to plant. Euphorbia 'Firesticks' (aka Sticks on Fire) is an outstanding variation on the old-fashioned "pencil cactus"--a tough, resilient and beautifully architectural plant that now comes in glowing shades of orange, yellow and red.

The photo I have really doesn't do it complete justice, as my plant was growing in a little too much shade at the time and had not "colored up" to the best of its ability--but you get the idea. The beautiful, nearly leafless, pencil-like stems of this variety look as though they are on fire from the glowing variation of color. It makes an outstanding container plant for a hot, sunny location and will grow into a dense, bushy to nearly tree form specimen (depending on how you prune it) in a relative short period of time. It also looks great in the ground with other sun-loving annuals and perennials, where its unusual form plays well off of other broad-leafed plants.

Pair Euphorbia 'Firesticks' with the blues and purples of salvias such as 'Mystic Spires' or 'Victoria' for great color contrast or really heat things up by putting it with the red texas sages (Salvia greggii varieties) or the vibrant oranges of cuphea (cigar plant). It also works to amazing effect simply mixed with a selection of other succulents in a large container, where their varying colors and architectural character play off of each other in the most interesting ways.