Book Review Heading


The Gardener's Guide to Growing Hostas

By Diana Grenfell
Published by Florilegium Press, 1996

Reviewed by Penelope Bunny, Abbotsford Gardens and Nursery, Masterton

Hostas are highly prized for their clean sculptural leaves in an extraordinary range of colours. They have become one of the most popular of all foliage plants. Leaf colour varies from matt/blue grey to glossy apple green with many shades and variations in between. Size varies from those with leaves as large as dinner plates to others no bigger than a thumb nail. There is a hosta for almost every shady/part shady situation and effect.

Of interest to me upon reading this book was Graham Stuart Thomas's comment in his foreword that "the genus Hosta is a comparative newcomer to the annals of horticulture." As a gardener I couldn't imagine working without hostas in my plans or viewing them in my garden. At the time of writing they are unfolding their loveliness for a new season. Their foliage effect is calming and the clumps are bigger and better every year. Slugs and snails are the only real harm and easily disposed of. In Diana Grenfell's book, the history of hostas is informative, nomenclature and classification professional enough for those interested in serious hosta growing and collecting, and also straight-forward enough for a keen gardener/small nursery proprietor like myself.

Cultivation notes are easy to follow and thorough. The only comment I would make is her recommendation that hostas with yellow foliage be given some direct sunlight. Here in the Wairarapa where I live I have to put yellow foliaged hosta in quite deep shade. They get sun-burnt!

The suggestions about creating artificial shade as built at Applecourt (a nursery display garden of the genus hosta) and illustrated in the book, is an exciting option for those of us with little natural shade, but a yearning for those wonderful leaves now, not in ten years time when trees have grown! Hellebores could also be planted in this situation.

The book is punctuated with clear, effective, photographic illustrations. These cover ideas for using various cultivars, ideas for design and groupings and plates for easy identification purposes. A chapter on hostas in Australasia is contributed by well known, New Zealand plantsman and gardener Gordon Collier. The book is completed with a section titled "Selection of the Best Hosta List" in which hostas are divided into groups such as Flower Arrangement, Distinctive Leaves, Container Growing and Splashed Variegation groups.

I found the book very readable, written by someone who really knows her topic, well illustrated and a satisfying general information, or reference read. It is a very useful book that helps gardeners like myself work through many of the new cultivars available. An A-Z of hostas in cultivation is included. A great informative read.

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1996 1(4): 23-24

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