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Column

Wimbiscus: Can you ever have too many hostas?

Bill Wimbiscus
Bill Wimbiscus

Two hundred and twenty seven.

That’s how many hostas we have growing in the yard this year.

I know this because during our Memorial Day cookout someone complained “you have too many hostas.”

So I went and counted them. It took awhile. Most are scattered along the borders, under bushes, along walkways and walls, circling tree trunks and pretty much coming up anywhere we can’t grow grass and don’t want weeds.

Now 227 may seem like a rather large number, but honestly, can you ever have too many hostas?

For the botanically-challenged, hosta – also known as plantain lily in parts of the U.S. and Britain, or as giboshi in Japan, Korea and the Russian Far East – is one of the most widely-cultivated shade-tolerant foliage plants on the planet.

The stuff grows like weeds, can generally abide everything from full shade to full sun, and is more or less impervious to bad soil, insect infestations and general stupidity on the part of the homeowner.

Which makes it perfect for our yard.

When we bought our house 24 years ago, most of the lawn was 1. covered by shade and 2. covered in weeds (at least the parts that weren’t just bare dirt). And while grass was our first replacement choice, even after several years of weeding, seeding and feeding much of the soil still remained more gleaned than greened.

That’s when my mother-in-law suggested transplanting some hosta. Initially I wasn’t too keen on the idea of taking on more yard work, but after she explained that a hosta bed would eliminate the need for grass and therefore eliminate the weekly need to cut said grass, I was hooked.

We dug up nine plants from her yard – she had a huge patch and hardly missed them – and plunked them down in the shadiest parts of our yard. For the first year they did little but survive, but by the second they were bursting out of the tortured earth in verdant explosions of stems and leaves. And slowly creeping over a large swath of our dead lawn.

I liked where this was going. So I asked my mother-in-law for some more.

“Just take a knife and split the ones I gave you last year,” she replied.

Huh? You can do that? So I dug up all nine, chopped ‘em in half with the shovel and suddenly I had 16 plants (a couple didn’t survive surgery). The next year I did it again and ended up with 29. The next year … well, you can see where this is going.

Eventually we had more than a hundred hostas. More than a hundred boring ordinary small-leaf medium green hosta. We had so many I started giving them away, though after awhile no one else seemed to want them, either.

“Maybe you should try planting some other hosta varieties,” my mother-in-law suggested.

“Do they come in other colors?” I asked.

“Yes, but there’s catch,” she said. “You’ll have to actually go somewhere and pay for them for a change.”

So we invested $5 in a Big Blue. And a few dollars more in couple of green-and-white variegated varieties. They took, so the next year we splurged on a couple more varieties. And so on. Now we have about a dozen different varieties – light green, dark green, green-yellow, yellow, ribbed, cupped, praying hands, giant, miniature and old fashion – though still mostly the mother-in-law medium greens. And all the while the splitting has continued, growing like compound interest, though unfortunately you can’t retire on hosta futures.

So now, a couple decades later, our yard is a veritable jungle of hosta, providing a lush backdrop for various other plant species we’ve acquired over the years, as well as cover for a variety of wildlife that now frequents the vicinity.

Over the past couple years, our back yard has played host to a nesting Cooper’s hawk and an Eastern screech owl, goldfinches, cardinals, grosbeaks, doves and many other birds, as well as squirrels, rabbits, and the occasional fox, possum and all-too-frequent skunk.

I wasn’t really planning on a jungle, I just wanted to get out of mowing the dirt patches that once made up so much of our lawn. Though I imagine that’s how it always starts.

On a related subject, Project Acclaim is seeking nominees for its annual Neighborhood Hero awards. The group is looking for Joliet homeowners who’ve landscaped their own yards – particularly their front yards – with flower beds, decorative trees, shrubs and other horticultural elements.

Winners get a certificate of appreciation, recognition before the Joliet City Council and a sign in their yard.

Entry deadline is June 30. For more information, go to projectacclaim.org and hit the Neighborhood Heroes link, or e-mail projectacclaim@gmail.org.

And no, we’re not entering this year. Not until we hit 300 hosta.

• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at news@theherald-news.com.

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