Event date: Monday 23rd March 2015
Speaker: Richard Ford
Write-up by Janet Beakes

Richard Ford is an ex-nurseryman whose face is familiar at the many show venues around the country. His tally of 150 gold medals, including 7 at Chelsea, are indicative of his skill and dedication in growing and exhibiting these popular plants.

His talk explained why, where and how hostas should be grown. The reasons for growing them are obvious to us as hardy plant lovers. Since the first species was first introduced in 1787, they have been popular foliage plants that associate well with a range of plants including grasses, they are robust and easy to grow and recent breeding has ensured that we now have 10,000 varieties to choose from.

 Hosta ‘Sum and `Substance’
Hosta ‘Sum and `Substance’
© Marie Robson

Richard explained that while we associate hostas with shade, they are not really shade lovers, simply shade tolerant, and while they will grow in dry places they really love a damp spot. In fact they are good almost anywhere, ideally half the day in sun half in shade, but many are happy in full sun and many in full shade. The thickness of the leaf, which varies between varieties is indicative of whether they will do well in either situation, thinner leaves preferring some shade. Plants flower better in full sun many of the flowers being fragrant.

Hostas are not difficult to grow, but benefit from the minimum of care. The crown really likes to be congested and regular division is not necessary, in fact detrimental, to achieving a spectacular stand of foliage. For this reason they do very well in pots where they tolerate a great deal of “neglect” and can stay in same pot for years. They do however appreciate feeding and in the ground an early season mulching is ideal to keep moisture in the soil. The obvious question of slugs and snails raised its ugly head, a topic Richard is well used to addressing! Sadly there is no one simple answer but a combination of measures really does help in keeping them at bay. Keep the general population down by regular manual (nocturnal?) slug hunts – strong stomach required! Don’t over feed creating soft, munchable foliage. Use barrier methods to make life uncomfortable for the slimy little blighters ie. shells, grit, or bark. Copper bands work on pots to some extent.

Grow the more upright varieties that hold their foliage well above the ground making it more difficult for the enemy to climb aboard, don’t plant in damp shade, the favourite slug habitat, and keep pots away from walls or stone work that can give them a leg up. When possible choose the newer varieties that have been selected for tougher more resilient leaves. If you have any time left after doing all this and haven’t developed a persecution complex you can get on with a bit of gardening, but don’t forget to find room for one or two more hostas – you won’t regret it.