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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

  • It's a good idea to cut grass shorter in the fall than in the summer.
    Lowering the setting on your mower one or two notches, especially for the last mowing offers two major benefits:
    Shorter grass doesn't mat down during winter rains and snows. Matting can lead to disease and big problems come spring.
    A shorter lawn makes leaf cleanup much easier. On a windy day, many of the leaves may simply blow away!
    When you put the mower away at the end of the season, remember to reset its cutting height to a higher setting.