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Distinctly Green

Some plain green hostas really stand out.


By Joshua Spece
first published in The Hosta Journal - Volume 38, Number 1

In a hosta world dominated by vivid yellows, powdery blues and wild variegation, it should come as no surprise that solid green plants rarely get the attention they deserve. Ask any nursery owner what type of hosta is most difficult to sell and the answer will be solid green.

The Role of Green Hostas in the Garden

Green hostas play an important role in the garden and that is to provide balance among all the variegated plants. As we snatch up the latest and greatest variegated hostas, the garden can quickly become chaotic and distracting. Even the most stunning plants get lost in the crowd.

A grouping of hostas is usually pleasing to the eye when different colors and variegation patterns are combined. Large green hostas make an excellent backdrop to display brightly colored varieties. I like to space several large green hostas along the back of the bed or through the center of an island bed. Then I mix and match blue and yellow hostas with variegated hostas in a variety of different sizes. I also place some additional greens among the other colors.

With a little planning, you can design an entire layout where no plants with similar colors and variegation are side by side. Every plant stands out and gets its share of the spotlight - even the green hostas!

How Green can be Distinct

Just because a hosta is solid green does not mean it has to be uninteresting. Hostas have many characteristics that can make a cultivar distinct; variegation is but one. Leaf shape and size, the finish of the top and bottom of the leaf, petiole length and color, scape length and color, leaf substance, leaf texture, veining, margin undulations and even the shade of green can combine in various ways to make a plant distinct. And this list does not even take into consideration the flowers or the mature size of the plant.

One of the most important characteristics - and one that is too often overlooked - is the overall form of the hosta. When you stand back and look at the plant, what is the shape of the clump? Is it strictly upright, vase-shaped, mounded or low and spreading? How are the leaves held? Do they point upward, are they horizontal or do the tips droop to form a fountain effect? What is the flower presentation like? Are the scapes very tall, or are they more horizontal and weeping? Do the scapes and flowers make a bouquet in perfect scale with the plant? The overall habit of the plant's leaves and flowers can mean the difference between a nice hosta and a really outstanding hosta.

7 Must Have Green Hostas

As your hosta collection grows and you become familiar with more and more hosta cultivars, it should become easier to spot plants that are truly distinct. The following are a few of my favorite greens to get you started; they are unique enough to stand out in any garden.

Hosta Bridegroom
Hosta 'Bridegroom'
Hosta 'Bridegroom' is a lively plant that should be in every hosta collection. Somewhat triangular leaves are dark green with a satin-like sheen and small ripples along the margin. The most unique feature is the way the leaves are slightly folded downward, leaving the leaf tip pointing to the sky. H. 'Bridegroom' will form a 2-foot-wide clump that is unmistakable.

Hosta Raspberry Sorbet
Hosta 'Raspberry Sorbet'
H. 'Raspberry Sorbet' is another smaller plant that will reach about 2 feet in diameter. It is a rapid grower, and its very glossy, slightly twisted leaves have large waves along the margins. The plant looks great all season, but really stands out when it comes into bloom in late summer. Raspberry-colored scapes are in perfect proportion to the plant and hold a beautiful, bright bouquet of lavender flowers. If you think hosta flowers are ugly, 'Raspberry Sorbet' will change your mind!

Olga Petryszyn is a master at hybridizing fantastic, giant hostas that, for the most part, are solid-colored. One of her most fascinating is 'Hoosier Dome'. It's a large plant with equally large green leaves that cup downward to form high domes. Heavily scalloped margins and deep veins make it a one-of-a-kind cultivar that can easily hold its own as the centerpiece of a hosta bed.

H. 'Manhattan' is another of Olga's gentle giants and one of my personal favorites. The broad, heavily corrugated leaves end in a slightly twisted point. In addition, the leaves, which have heavy substance, are lightly cupped and intensely ruffled around the edge. The rosy-lavender scapes add a little splash of color as they rise out of the grey-green foliage. H. 'Manhattan' may be a little slow to reach maturity, but often slower-growing plants turn out to be among the most spectacular.

Hosta Corkscrew
Hosta 'Corkscrew'
The notion that hybridizing green hostas is a dead-end road is put to rest with one of the most exciting plants to be introduced in the last few years. H. 'Corkscrew' is a 'Tortifrons' hybrid and indeed resembles a 'Tortifrons' plant on steroids. The long, narrow, glossy green leaves are twisted, folded and contorted atop the red petioles. This wild plant won't appeal to everyone, but goes to show there are still unexplored directions in hybridizing green hostas.

Hosta Marilyn Monroe
Hosta 'Marilyn Monroe'
H. 'Marilyn Monroe' is an elegant and beautiful recent introduction that will surely become a classic. The smooth, rounded, green leaves are slightly cupped so that the heavily ruffled margins give occasional glimpses of the chalky white leaf backs. Reddish petioles and scapes add a flash of color. The heavy substance of the leaves make 'Marilyn Monroe' a show-stopper all season long.

Hosta Harry van Trier
Hosta 'Harry van Trier'
Last but not least is a newly introduced plant from Europe that has really impressed me. H. 'Harry van Trier' forms a small, somewhat upright, dark green mound. The glossy, arrow-shaped leaves have excellent substance and are partially folded with large waves down each side. H. 'Harry van Trier' is not expensive and will hopefully become more widely grown.

Learning what makes a distinctive hosta is something that happens over time. At first, it may seem that green hostas are limited in their diversity. Part of the problem may be that growers, collectors and hybridizers, drawn by the bright colors available in the hosta world, don't make an effort to notice and appreciate the more subtle characteristics that can make a green hosta unique.

I think most hosta collectors go through a progression as their collection grows. They are first drawn to variegated plants and then blues and yellows. I hope most collectors, in time, come to appreciate the understated beauty of green hostas. For those who aren't quite there, yet, I hope this article inspires you to better acquaint yourself with green hostas and give them the recognition they deserve.

Website by Josh Spece
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