It’s Nice to Be Greener


The rose, being the national flower for American gardeners, gave HGTV (a cable channel every gardener should watch) an excellent late winter chance to bring roses to our attention. After all, Saint Valentine’s Day was a good time slot to schedule the program. This one hour program, “The Rose”, was easy to watch and thought-provoking. It featured some magnificent rose collections and gardens, both large and small. Watching it with interest, I could not help thinking how brief the glory of the season is. When the rose blooms are gone, all that is left in classic rose gardens are spiny-stemmed bushes lined up like rows of soldiers or arranged in geometric patterns. With the blooms gone, most gardens become a sea of shrubs which can scarcely be called a garden. Unlike roses, hostas give us a much longer glory season and much more color throughout the year. Unfortunately, this longer glory season does not qualify many hosta gardens as real gardens. Recently, Bob Solberg in The Green Hill Gossip observed: “Most of the hosta gardens we visit are hosta collections. Every clump in the garden is different. They are all neatly labeled and arranged generally with the big ones in the back and the small ones in the front.” Bob follows with some landscape advice to make hosta collections look more like a garden. I did not say “hosta garden” on purpose, because quite a few hosta gardens I have seen are simply monogeneric collections of hostas with little other plant material in sight. Some hosta gardeners include trees, shrubs, hardscaping, rocks, water features, even some companion plants, but the assembly is still a collection, not a garden. Even if Bob’s landscape tips are followed, any garden in which 95 percent of the plants are hostas is doomed to be called a collection.


Over the last fifteen years, I have become a renegade to the cause of hostas and eliminated a number of hostas from my half-acre garden. Replacing them with native and exotic plants, many wildflowers, and an ever-increasing number of grasses and ferns, have made my garden look better and truly a garden, not a collection of hostas. Although many hostas are left, they are used as they should be in true gardens: as specimen accent plants here and there, a few patches of ground cover mass plantings, edgings, and most important of all, as texture plants, juxtaposed with ferns, grasses, patches of moss and rocks. Call me a traitor if you will, but I wanted a garden, not a collection of hostas.  I have given up on buying many of the look-alike variegated hostas and replaced them with with plain green species and their yellow-leaved seedlings. After all, how many truly distinct variegated cultivars are there out there? Six hundred variegated hostas do not make a garden.


I happen to like green hostas and green gardens. After all, green is nature’s way of painting the landscape. I do not like the splashy floral displays or the masses of variegated hostas I have seen in many gardens. This does not mean I do not like flowers or variegated plants. There are many of them in my garden. I just happen to prefer the myriad shades of different greens displayed over a long period by hostas (including the variegated ones), hellebores, epimediums and ornamental grasses, for example. When a “garden” begins to look like a Jackson Pollock canvas, no longer is it a garden that surrounds one with tranquility and peace. To me it is nicer to have a green garden.  It is much closer to our natural model and lasts a lot longer than many of the derived “artificial” floral displays we often see.


Gardeners everywhere are free to make gardens that have their own personal touch, according to their own taste. If it is a collection they want, that is what they will have. Those “gardens”, however, will become collections, of course, and my hope is that some of the collectors will follow Bob’s (and my) advice and make their gardens greener and more natural. Let’s not make hosta-exclusive gardens but gardens that include hostas (even many of them) as companions to the myriad of other plants available for the shady garden. 


George Schmid

Tucker, Georgia