Excited about hostas? It’s possible.


Mike Shadrack calls this (and below) his “Octopus’s Garden in the
Shade,” but he also refers to it as using hostas as alpines. Neither of these playful descriptions is quite correct—there’s no octopus and Shadrack lives perched above a
creek, not on a mountaintop.

All the same, I am intrigued by his treatment of miniature
hostas. Mini hostas are all the rage now, in case you hadn’t heard. It’s the
opposite of how we grow them on my street—which is thick, gigantic, and tightly
planted. Shadrack, however, is a hosta specialist who has written several authoritative books on the topic. We visited his creekside garden south
of Buffalo last weekend—a first for everyone, including me.

Now, I do like hostas. I have to; I have dry shade and heavy
clay soil. But it’s hard to get really excited about them the way I would about
hellebores, erythronium, actaea, or other plants that might take the same
conditions, not to mention plants I can’t grow at all like delphinium, poppies,
and lupines. So far, I have been using hostas in thick profusion of much the
same varieties—usually sieboldiana and its hybrids. But what if I created a
rock garden in the shade like Mike? (What if, indeed. This is what the phrase
“Don’t try this at home” was created for.)

All I need is for someone to get me excited about
impatiens and I’ll never say an unkind word about my maple trees again. 

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The problem I found with the minature hostas is that since they are so small any nocturnal visits by hungry slugs usually means it is history. Where as the bigger ones can take some munching and not disapear. Just my experience.

  2. I love the mini hostas, and already had some before I visited the Shadrack’s garden. Now I just want more… and will probably switch to containers for them.

    As far kind words for your maple trees… well just imagine your garden without them? Or dare you do that?

  3. I have two largish Norway Maples on my front lawn. I would love to create a garden under them, but I’m not sure I could handle all the seedlings that they create. Any ideas? The mini hostas are very cute, but unless you get up close and personal with them they are lost. For now I admire them in other people’s gardens.

  4. Excellent that you all are excited about mini hostas… yes they are best in raised beds (Mike’s rockery) or containers where you can see them better and they can be appreciated for themselves. Kathy Shadrack

  5. I gotta add another comment. I love big hostas. Big leathery leaves. Plants big enough to swallow a small child, or at the very least a small dog. Plants that are so big they looke fake, like they came out of a Johnny Weismuiller Tarzan movie. It is as close to the tropical look as I can get. Which is why I have a Sum and Substance, Big Daddy, Blue Angel, Komodo Dragon, Titantic. (I also have itty bitty Blue Mouse Ears and the Edger series for contrast.)

  6. Hostas, the bigger the better! What are you supposed to do with those twee little ones? I am too old to get down to eye level with them, not even in a raised bed. I love Sum and Substance, Frances Williams, Blue Angel — they are handsome, they hold their place in the shady border with strength and presence, and I wouldn’t be without them. That said, they can be bullies though — I have a Blue Angel and a Frances Williams that have moved in on a young camellia and are pushing it out of their way. Time to get out the axe and do a little dividing when fall comes.

  7. All of my hostas are minis, thanks to the expletive-deleted slugs…

    A good word about impatiens: they’re gravity-resistant. The pot crashed to the ground about twelve feet below without a single gasp of diamay from the impatiens.

  8. In my shade garden I have a variety of Hostas,large and medium sized.I just rescued a mini Hosta from the **** slugs.It looks beautiful now in a hypertufa container,all elevated to specialdom.(is that a word?) And, it became visible in all that beautiful greenery.

  9. Before I moved from Michigan I was just starting a whiskey barrel planting of miniture roses (grocery store variety) and miniture hostas.

    It was one of the new gardens I had to leave (I’m in Phoenix now, our Hostas are called Agaves and Yuccas) I would LOVE to see somebody take this concept and run with it!

  10. What??? It’s hard to get really excited about hosta??? I LOVE them! Some of the leaves are amazing.

    I do raise my mini’s up, in pots, on stumps, etc. It also stops the evil, marauding armadillos, from tossing them around.

  11. The concept of “evil marauding armadillos” just stopped me in my tracks! Yikes! I thought I was suffering with evil rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and chipmunks!

  12. My client said she didn’t want any more hostas b/c she already had both kinds: green and white.
    I love Hosta and at one time I had 83 varieties (and NOT ONE mini), but in my Atlanta garden their fleshy crowns are merely delicacies for the blasted pine voles. I haven’t dug holes and installed wire planting cages.

  13. Living in uber-hot Oklahoma, I am not the biggest hosta fan (although some fantastic gardeners here grow them with aplomb), but he may have me with the miniatures. I like anything I can stick in a container where I can see it up close. I kept thinking of them beneath containerized Japanese maples on my back deck. Still thinking, but his garden was splendid as was his wife’s?~~Dee


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