I’ve been thinking about plants for dry shade, recently, and hostas in particular.
Now - no one would suggest that hostas positively adore conditions which are both dry and shady but, like so many plants for dry shade, it’s more that some will do well there – even if they’ll do even better somewhere else.
I’ve been looking around for a while, and taking notes on the issue, then I started to wonder which features in hostas would make some more suited to the conditions than others.
Long ago I planted that old old favorite Hosta lancifolia
in dry shade, its shining green leaves overlapping like fish scales, and fifteen years later it was still doing well. I’ve noticed that another old favorite, H. sieboldiana
, with broad blue leaves of heavy substance, also takes the conditions well.
Those most likely to fail, it seemed to me, would be those with broad white variegations. In difficult conditions plants need as much chlorophyll as possible, and those with wide variegations at the edges where the leaf tissue is thinnest would also be most likely to suffer under stress.
I read the works of experts and found that 'Albo-marginata', ‘Ground Master’ and the rarely seen H. kikutii
were recommended. But then I thought I ought to ask some people who really know their hostas. So I asked two experts: Diana Grenfell, author of some excellent books on hostas and a holder of the British National Collection of miniature hostas
; and Ian Scroggy, who runs Bali-Hai Nursery
in Northern Ireland, and who sells to both the UK and the US. Both gave me their thoughts:
Diana Grenfell said: “Hosta lancifolia
grows in great drifts in the Savill Gardens at Windsor in inhospitable
conditions as do 'Crispula' and, if I remember correctly, 'Decorata'. I am told that 'Blue Angel' will tolerate dry shade but will only attain leaves half their normal size; obviously in a small garden where they can be watered and well fed they will perform better.
“Some of the old fortunei
types with thicker leaves like 'Rugosa' and 'Hyacinthina' may also tolerate dry shade.” I have to say that Diana was much more in favor of not subjecting hostas to dry shade at all!
Ian Scroggy told me: “Any of the Hosta tokudama
plants and cultivars are ideal, in drier shady areas the color comes out much better. All of the tokudama
plants are very slow to grow so do not require as much moisture in early spring to come into leaf. They are always nearly the last hostas to come into leaf but hold their leaves much longer into October.
“Other Hostas would be the siebioldiana
types; they produce very woody root systems which again really hold moisture in their roots and release it slowly to the plant. In dry shade H. sieboldiana
‘Elegans’ will put on extra "bloom" or wax onto its leaves and really looks like someone sprinkled blue powder dust all over the leaves.”
Two interesting aspects to those thoughts from Ian Scroggy. One: slow growing is good, because if plants grow slowly they need less moisture. Two: woody root systems are good for moisture storage.
Fascinating. Thank you Diana
. Now I just need to ask someone about daylilies for dry shade…