We might think of hostas as quintessential foliage plants, but some are well worth growing for their flowers too, says plantsman Graham Rice
Although heucheras are mounting a strong challenge, hostas are our premier hardy perennials grown for their foliage. Many thousands of varieties been named since they were first introduced to Britain in 1790 and almost all have been selected for their attractive leaves, but there are others grown for their flowers and especially their scent.
Hosta plantaginea, (see photo) the very first hosta to be introduced, is the only fragrant species and the scent of its large white flowers hangs in the air on summer evenings. It has given rise to numerous varieties such as ‘Aphrodite’, a lovely double-flowered version, and ‘Honeybells’ in pale lavender. ‘Royal Standard’, a hybrid between H. plantaginea and H. sieboldiana, has very large white blooms and impressive foliage.
Pale lavender-flowered ‘Summer Fragrance’ was the first descendant of H. plantaginea to feature variegated foliage, in this case white margins, and gave rise to the palest lavender-flowered ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, also with white edges to the leaves.
‘Guacamole’ has the scent and foliage of ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ but with the addition of a chartreuse centre to each leaf, while ‘Stained Glass’, derived from ‘Guacamole’, has a golden centre to each leaf and a feathered green edge.
The diminutive ‘Blue Mouse Ears’, the amazingly prolific neat gold-edged mounds of ‘Golden Tiara’, the blue boldness of ‘Krossa Regal’ all add impressive flowers to their colourful leaves but they are, sadly, unscented. Of course, we should not reject the excellent simply because it is not superb. Many forms and hybrids of H. sieboldiana also feature good flowers and these include almost white ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Blue Umbrellas’ (pale lavender).
There’s one important thing to remember about these flowering hostas, and especially those with scent. In borders or containers, if they’re allowed to dry out their fragrance is impaired and their flowering season cut short. Many make medium to large plants which need a great deal of water in summer to grow and flower well, even if the foliage does not immediately collapse in dry conditions. So be sure to water them regularly, especially if you grow them in containers.
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