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Hosta Sum and Substance – Garden Design II

I see lots of big hostas in the landscape. My own weakness is Sum and Substance hosta. The challenge for many gardeners is using hosta effectively in garden design.

My favorite way to grow Sum and Substance hosta is in a terra cotta pot.

sum and substance hosta in container
Sum and Substance I grew in large terra cotta pot.

Hosta lovers tend to be collectors.

In their gardens are a lot of different hostas. “Where’s a good spot for this one?” is a question most often asked. The secret to designing beautiful gardens around hostas lies is maximizing the opportunities to design with texture. Your supporting cast is crucial should you proceed.

sum and substance in the garden
Tons of textures and colors surround this Sum and Substance hosta.

This essay on garden design with hosta serves as a companion to thoughts on designing with Sum and Substance hosta written a while back. The ideas expressed herein are not limited to working with Sum and Substance hosta.

Sum and Substance hosta is my favorite hosta.

It is easy to grow, dramatic in the landscape, and the chartreuse leaves contrast beautifully with darker companion plantings.

hosta sum and substance leaves
Hosta Sum and Substance leaves. Huge leaves pose a considerable design challenge to many gardeners.

Keys to Hosta Garden Design

  1. Select companion plantings for hosta with contrasting texture. Look at the photograph at the top of this article. Imagine the planting with nothing but hosta. Now imagine the planting without the hosta. It is the variety that creates interest. Even though there are three Sum and Substance hosta in this planting, the grouping is effective because of the contrasting textures.
  2. Plant groupings of the same hosta cultivar together. This is a tough one for the hosta collectors out there (you know who you are). Again, take a look at the photograph and imagine three large hostas: a big blue like Hosta sieboldiana, a big variegated variety such as Francis Williams, and one Sum and Substance hosta. A hallmark of good design is repetition, and three different hostas planted in close proximity can overwhelm the overall effect…the scenario just described is the way most hosta plantings are laid out.
  3. Treasure each cultivar like the jewel it is. There are tons of plants that look best casually dispersed around the garden. Columbine and wood sorrel spring to mind. Hosta, because of their larger-than-life textures and colors have to be placed with restraint and consideration. If you love a particular variety of hosta, then create a showplace in an area for that specific hosta. Surround one carefully tended hosta with a beautiful and appropriate supporting cast. Maybe plant three of a particular hosta cultivar together and another off to the side, interspersed with your favorite ferns or perennials.
  4. Surround your hosta. A technique almost never used, but which I use almost exclusively with Sum and Substance hosta is to plant the hosta on the interior of the garden space. Separate the hosta from the viewer. Beginning hosta gardeners tend to plant hosta at the back, with the idea that the large foliage will be more in scale when viewed at a distance. Over time, the gardener may come to realize that planting the big hosta at the front of the planting is often more effective. My preferred method is neither choice above. I like to surround Sum and Substance hostas with as many textures and shades of dark green as I can find. The goal is to create a rich tapestry. With a blue hosta such as Sieboldiana elegans, perhaps a fern with cool tones is where it’s at (Japanese painted fern below).
hosta sieboldiana elegans
Sieboldiana elegans hosta with painted fern.


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