Posted in plant pieces

Here come the Hostas

As a child I was too impatient to wait and see what the fuchsia bud would reveal and so I would prematurely pop them! With some of that same eagerness in Spring, I’ll scrape the gravel topping in the hosta pots, to seek out the first signs of them putting their snouts above the soil.

purple sheathed hosta ‘snouts’ in mid-April

Once they first appear, hostas soon rush to unsheath their spiral-bound leaves and they do so with a great deal of elegance, which is why I like to keep my few potted hostas within eyesight so I can appreciate the changes.

Another reason to keep hostas potted is that the opportunistic gastropods will find it harder to reach them, especially as mine are situated on gravel. Even early in the year there is one type ready and waiting for hostas to emerge:

In late winter/early spring the keeled slug migrates towards the surface of the soil where it can do untold damage to emerging shoots and leaves. ~ British Hosta Society

I first happened upon Hostas when tending a mostly shade garden and they were an ideal and obvious planting choice. Those with gold pigmentation however tolerate more sun and more sun means more flowers. The glaucous leaved though are bluer in the shade so it all depends on what we want from our hostas. What they want most from us is plentiful, regular, summer feeds and watering. Too often they are relegated to dry shade corners, their tongued leaves full of holes and simply gasping.

Foliage is mostly why we treasure these Plantain Lily plants, although there’s the added bonus of slender spikes of blooms, bell, funnel or star-shaped, in pretty pastels from white through to lilac. And with such accessible stamens, they attract pollen crunching pollinators too.

hoverfly on hosta flower – summer 2020

Before leaving London I cashed up hostas ‘Halcyon’ and H. Fortunei Hyacinthina at a summer fair and replaced them in my new home with the variegated ‘Patriot‘, ‘Dream Queen‘ a tetraploid (double the normal chromosomes) with thicker, tougher, more slug resistant leaves plus a nameless all green one from a local plant sale. And a gardener who was dividing some big blue varieties gave me one that he thought was ‘Big Daddy‘.

There are about 25 species of hostas. Most originate from Japan and are called Giboshi.

Different species grow in different environments – some grow near water around rivers and swamps, some in flat fields, while others find a little dirt in cracks and cling on mountain sides”. Hosta Collecting in Japan

With so much hybridizing since, there are now hundreds of garden varieties with all sorts of fanciful names. My ambition is to try and obtain one or two originals and savour them for my upcoming Japanese style garden. But whatever their species origins, hostas with their restrained colour palette are perfect plants for this theme.

Further Reading:
Hosta species update ~ W. George Schmid

Posted in plant pieces

‘Tis the season for Semps!

By virtue of nomenclature, sempervivum covers every season, being evergreen succulent perennials which can outlast most UK winters. However, I have had a few losses which contradicts the ‘always living’ Latin definition.

A few of the named varieties are not as prodigious as some of the more familiar types like S. Atlanticum or the Arachnoideums. Twice I have lost ‘Engles’ – a favourite purple-grey variety and looking through the labels (kept separately now) I notice that a couple of others have vanished over the past 2 years.

the succulent wall garden

Sempervivums (aka houseleeks, hen & chicks) are alpines, requiring lots of drainage and sunny spots. I grow mine in shallow troughs or circular pots with gritted John Innes #3 but moving house in November 2019, these were rather unceremoniously plonked on top of a stone wall plot. They were then left to their own devices whilst I was away in New Zealand for the winter.

On my return I found that some had decayed whilst a number had been dislodged from the pots, along with their labels. This created a real challenge to identify which belonged where. So many semps look alike and I did in fact replant together a couple that were different varieties.

Sempervivums have currently come to the fore in popularity and garden centres are churning out nameless varieties in multipacks. However, taking time to observe their individual charms creates quite a different approach and so I tend to purchase named varieties for their colour and form as well as heritage.

Anyone who has tried to ID their semps from the internet will face an impossible task as not only do the images exhibit wide-ranging colour differences but most websites give next to nothing in detail. For example, I searched for verification that a label-less one was ‘Green Ice‘ yet only one site mentioned that in Spring the backs of the leaves flush purple – as mine have!

And that brings me to the title – Spring is indeed the season for Sempervivums as, chameleon-like, many will almost change appearance with fresh greens, reds, bronzes, purples coming to the fore, before the change down for summer flowering.

Useful links:
How to care for Sempervivum plants