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ACTIVE AGE | On Gardening: A lineage of hosta champions

by Norman Winter | On Gardening | July 29, 2020 at 10:42 p.m. | Updated July 29, 2020 at 10:43 p.m.
Shadowland Empress Wu can reach 3 to 4-feet tall with a spread up to 6-feet. Stained Glass hosta in the background looks miniscule in comparison. (Norman Winter/TNS)

Etched Glass may just be the most beautiful hosta I have ever seen or grown. Not only do I find it mesmerizing but as a horticulturist I find it intriguing to know that it comes from a lineage of past champions.

The world of hostas can be a little like thoroughbred racehorses from the standpoint of lineage. The lineage is often enlarged via what is known as sporting. For instance, Guacamole one of my all-time favorites was the 2002 Hosta of the Year.

I was ready to call the end game to hosta breeding but it produced the sport named Stained Glass, which became the 2006 Hosta of the Year. I love this one too, maybe even more and it is absolutely riveting in my garden right now. But you can see how we've got the beginning of a championship lineage.

You may be asking what is a sport. In the hosta world, a leaf bud boldly switches to a new color or pattern of variegation. This morphological change gives a new option for hosta producers to take care of this sport and mass propagate it for evaluation and then production if worthy.

Etched Glass, which I mentioned above as maybe the most stunning hosta ever to be mass produced, is a sport of Stained Glass. To my knowledge it hasn't won any awards yet, but I promise it will win your heart. It has wider leaves than Stained Glass and they are considerably thicker.

The puckered thick leaves have dark green margins surrounding flame-like patterns of chartreuse. The plants will reach 18 inches tall with a spread of 36 inches. It then produces 36-inch-tall scapes or stalks bearing fragrant white flowers. I'm growing mine intermingled with clusters of three different species hydrangeas and dwarf azaleas.

As much as I love Etched Glass, I could not imagine being without Empress Wu. To say this hosta is large is an understatement. After two years mine is already large enough for my 4-year-old granddaughter to hide behind. You might call this a hide-and-seek hosta. This hosta has the potential of reaching 36 to 48 inches tall and up to 6 feet in width.

The scapes of blooms reach 4-feet and bring in the hummingbirds as well as your favorite salvia. In my front yard I am growing them as specimens partnered with azaleas, camellias and Crested Surf Japanese Painted ferns. In the back I'm creating my own little hosta paradise with a dozen plants representing four varieties.

The hosta is in the lily family and has the common name of Plantain Lily. Because of their lush foliage you would swear they from some tropical South Pacific island. Unbelievably, they are cold hardy all the way to zone 3, but rest assured their beauty and leaf texture does add a lush tropical flair to the garden.

Instead of the tropics, hostas come from Japan, Korea and China, and there are about 40 species. There are thousands and thousands of varieties and hybrids, making it the collector's dream plant.

Etched Glass and Empress Wu are part of the Shadowland Series coming from Proven Winners. So, in other words at your garden center you would find Shadowland Etched Glass or Shadowland Empress Wu. There are 10 selections including the dazzling lime green to golden yellow Shadowland Coast to Coast.

No Matter what Shadowland hosta you choose the bed should be rich in organic matter, so incorporate 3 to 4 inches of humus or compost to improve drainage and aeration. While tilling, add 2 pounds per 100 square feet of a 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer with minor nutrients. Plant at the same depth they are growing in the container, placing the crown of the plant slightly above the soil line.

At The Garden Guy's house, watering is a regular mid-morning ritual unless a rain event is assured. Since Columbus, Ga., is the home of hot summer temperatures, I want my hostas going into afternoon heat, hydrated for best growth and performance.


Tribune News Service


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