Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hostas Rise Up!

We've always grown hostas at Vermont Flower Farm but it wasn't until about six years ago that visitors began commenting how nice it was to come to a garden with more than the 6-8 hostas common to the many nurseries and garden centers in Vermont. Maybe that was the encouragement we needed to begin a collection and make a serious garden to properly display the mature size of hostas we offer for sale.

Much has changed since then and the shade garden we have established within the confines of an old barn foundation has become our pride as an example of how useful these plants are. The collection exceeds 400 varieties now and it grows annually based on our budget and gifts from other growers. Although there are other collections in Vermont that are 4-5 times as large, ours has a uniqueness because of its setting. Although bordered by the town road, a neighbors place and our driveway, people remind us that they like to get "lost" in the tranquility of the garden. That's a nice reminder to what we will forever work to improve.

Hostas can jump-start your desire to garden in New England because of the way they grow. Snows melt and garden walks while watching and waiting for "something green" are finally rewarded by tiny cracks in the soil and the first green or gold. Early on the lancifolias emerge, gold, green or variegated. Nothing special here except the encouragement that more are on the way. Montana aureomarginata rushes to become number one only to be nailed by spring frosts one or two times before its upward growth succeeds. And then garden sparklers emerge as small Golden Scepter, Chinese Sunrise, Crepe Suzette, Lemon Lime, Platinum Tiara and other small yellows confirm our need to register our happiness with spring. The hostas have arrived!

Here in Marshfield it has rained for 12 days straight. Although the sun is breaking through black clouds over Peacham Pond as I write this morning, it has been a difficult spring for farmers and gardeners. It has been a great spring, however, if you're a hosta. The repeated heavy frosts are long ago forgotten and the grounds were so wet early on that the few nights of mid-twenties air temperature never translated to cold ground temps. The Sieboldiana 'Elegans' hosta pictured above is now 18" tall and ready to unfurl its first leaves with today's sun and warmth. All the hostas are out of the ground and rising upward to visitor's cheers.

Hostas are an easy plant with strong architectural meaning and intent. From tiny 2" tall plants like Popo and Cats Eyes to plants such as Tall Boy, Tenryu, or Krossa Regal with flower scapes in the 5-6-7 foot range, hostas offer more than enough to work with. As the ground warms we try to rake off the left over winter debris including last year's leaves and flower scapes and get it out of the garden. We don't compost this for reuse but spread it instead out back on the open fields where we are encouraging wild blueberries to grow taller and save our backs at harvest time.

When the gardens are cleaned and the hostas are on their way upward, we fertilize with fish emulsion and Epsom Salts. The salts are magnesium sulphate, a salt that was found for hundreds of years in farms and farm houses all over the country. Although its primary use was to soothe aches and pains, it's agricultural value is also important. Additionally, it is used by some as a regular bath for those on the autism spectrum because of some theories about chemical needs (magnesium) and balances. For plants, this salt assists in strong root growth and dark, healthy looking colors while not affecting soil ph levels. Although it is a salt is doesn't burn the plants and the short term changes are quick and obvious.

When the fertilizing is accomplished we try to add an inch or so of last years left-over maple leaves, shredded by the garden vac and left over winter to begin to decompose. The leaves have beneficial bacteria and chemicals and they serve to slow water evaporation. Hostas best fertilizer is water and to insure a nice looking collection, consistent watering and water conservation is essential.

I sure don't have to water anything today but the list of spring chores is still longer than I want to admit. Gail has pancakes cooking in the kitchen and that's a sign that another day calls my attention. I've already seen more sunshine this morning than in two weeks and between the sun and the pancakes, it looks like a welcoming day. Welcome to spring, gardeners, welcome to spring!

From the mountain above Peach Pond, where loons call and the robins are nesting....

Happy gardening!

George Africa

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