Ladybugs are to aphids as hostas are to shade gardens. Even though part of my Missouri limestone hillside garden is part to full shade, I haven’t succumbed to the lure of hostas. I do have a few.
The few that I do have are tied to my family. I have some at the front of my house that came from St. Paul, Minnesota, where I helped one brother landscape his first home. Another flower bed in the north side has New York hostas I hand-carried back from Virginia, where my other brother lives. These hostas are my sister-in-laws favorites. And now I have found a hosta I love, a fragrant variety with lovely white flowers.
These were a gift from a neighbor who has a shady garden area full of these hostas. At first I couldn’t believe the flowers were from a hosta. The white flowers did not look like the purple flowers I am used to seeing on hostas.
Fragrant hostas are certainly not a new thing on the gardening scene but some of my gardening friends were intrigued to hear I had a hosta with a scent. Many of our grandparents actually grew what has become known as the old fashioned "August lily". Indeed this large hosta, Hosta plantaginea, was first imported to England in 1790, and to the United States afterwards.
Hosta plantaginea is certainly the "white sheep" of the hosta family for a variety of reasons. First, it is one of the few hosta species that originated in China, as opposed to Korea and Japan. Hosta plantaginea is also the southern most naturally occurring hosta species, making it more heat loving than other members of the genus.
The flowering habit of Hosta plantaginea puts it in a class by itself. First of all the flowers are enormous by hosta standards, 6+ inches long and pure white, as compared to 1-2" long and purple for most hostas. Virtually every hosta except Hosta plantaginea has flowers that open around 7 am in the morning. Hosta plantaginea, on the other hand, opens at 4 pm in the afternoon. Educated scientists have still not figured out why this bizarre characteristic was selected for in the wild. The strong honeysuckle like fragrance of the old August Lily is absent in all other naturally occurring hosta species.
Hosta plantaginea, as the name August Lily suggests, bloom in late summer. This is in stark contrast to the majority of the more traditional hostas that flower from late April through June.
Another little noticed attribute of Hosta plantaginea is it's ability to reflush new foliage during the summer months. While most hosta species send up all of their foliage in the spring months, H. plantaginea is one of the only species that will continue to produce new leaves all summer long. This is a particular advantage when the original spring foliage becomes damaged or diseased, as can often occur in my garden.
If there are any drawbacks to Hosta plantaginea, it would be its desire to emerge much too early in the spring. Due to its heritage in the southern part of China where spring arrived early, Hosta plantaginea tries to emerge from its winter rest quite early, often in March. In most Missouri gardens, this means that a late spring frost could take its toll on the clump, often burning it back the ground. In more northerly climates, Hosta plantaginea has also proved to be a bit less hardy than the more northerly naturally occurring species.
Because Hosta plantaginea has a dramatically different bloom time, the number of hybrids that display the fragrant trait were slow to occur. Currently however, there are 56 registered hosta cultivars with fragrant flowers. Of these, only 27 are available commercially, as the remainder turned out to be poor garden specimens.
The scent of two cut flower stems have kept my kitchen and bathrooms company for more than a week. The fragrance is similar to jasmine.
To enjoy the fragrance in my garden, I planted my gift hostas behind a garden bench so I can sit close by and enjoy their scent. The spot also provides the plants with shade and some protection from cold winter winds.
So thankful my neighbor was willing to share these with me!