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How to use Hosta

In summer’s soaring temperatures, shade gardens are hot properties: it’s easy to beat the heat in the dappled light under the trees.

Great shade gardens are inviting and relaxing, perfect places for a secluded garden seat, a striking piece of garden art, or a cooling fountain among the lush foliage of choice shade plants. Not all plants do well in shade, but hostas thrive in these conditions, and add texture and richness to the whole garden.

Joann Schwarberg, a landscape architect who lives in Kansas City, likes hostas, but she doesn’t plant them by the dozens, in big circles around trees or in thick ribbons along pathways. Choose just a few, she says, and use them carefully.

“I use hostas like throw pillows,” Schwarberg says. Plant them as though they had spread naturally through a woodland: not in masses, but here and there. “You’re trying to evoke a feeling, not trying to see how many varieties of plants you can put in,” she says. “For me, it’s more about what the plants do for the space.”

Gardens in sun can be relied upon for great splashes of color. In shade, the palette is different, and the mood is, too. “In shade, it’s more about shadow and texture and nuance — and 70 shades of verdant green,” Schwarberg says. “It’s a completely different way to plant.”

Schwarberg chooses shade plants with interesting textures and forms. A hosta with creamy edges adds a splash of light to the shadows; gold-edged hostas or hostas with chartreuse leaves seem to shimmer in the subdued light. Big hostas are dramatically impressive; tiny-leaved hostas invite close inspection, and beguile you with their charm.

Let the plants you love define and fill out the design of your shade garden, Schwarberg says. Combine just eight or ten different plants, repeating them throughout the space. It helps the design hold together, and makes it feel more relaxed than a collector’s garden of innumerable species.

“When you think of a shade garden, you feel cool,” she says. “It’s all about that visceral feeling of cool and woodsy and comfortable.”

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • If the best looking melons in the garden had little or no flavor last summer, the problem may be the variety planted. Some melon types do better in a region than others and only trial and error or an experienced local gardener or county extension agent can guide you.

    Occasionally the problem is the soil. It may lack sufficient nutrients or the pH can be too low. Dig in compost or rotted manure before planting. Melons do best in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Have your soil tested and if the pH is below 6.5, amend with lime. Sometimes a lot of rain near the time of harvest will dilute the sugar in melons affecting taste. Watermelons will regain their sugars if you hold off harvesting for a few days. Cantaloupes will not.