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Hostas for dry shade

Hosta lancifolia,dry shade,Diana Grenfell,Ian Scroggy. Image: © I’ve been thinking about plants for dry shade, recently, and hostas in particular.

Now - no one would suggest that hostas positively adore conditions which are both dry and shady but, like so many plants for dry shade, it’s more that some will do well there – even if they’ll do even better somewhere else.

I’ve been looking around for a while, and taking notes on the issue, then I started to wonder which features in hostas would make some more suited to the conditions than others.

Long ago I planted that old old favorite Hosta lancifolia in dry shade, its shining green leaves overlapping like fish scales, and fifteen years later it was still doing well. I’ve noticed that another old favorite, H. sieboldiana var. elegans, with broad blue leaves of heavy substance, also takes the conditions well.

Those most likely to fail, it seemed to me, would be those with broad white variegations. In difficult conditions plants need as much chlorophyll as possible, and those with wide variegations at the edges where the leaf tissue is thinnest would also be most likely to suffer under stress.

I read the works of experts and found that 'Albo-marginata', ‘Ground Master’ and the rarely seen H. kikutii var. yakusimensis were recommended. But then I thought I ought to ask some people who really know their hostas. So I asked two experts: Diana Grenfell, author of some excellent books on hostas and a holder of the British National Collection of miniature hostas; and Ian Scroggy, who runs Bali-Hai Nursery in Northern Ireland, and who sells to both the UK and the US. Both gave me their thoughts:

Diana Grenfell said: “Hosta lancifolia grows in great drifts in the Savill Gardens at Windsor in inhospitable Hosta crispula,dry shade,Diana Grenfell,Ian Scroggy. Image: © conditions as do 'Crispula' and, if I remember correctly, 'Decorata'. I am told that  'Blue Angel' will tolerate dry shade but will only attain leaves half their normal size;  obviously in a small garden where they can be watered and well fed they will perform better. 

“Some of the old fortunei types with thicker leaves like 'Rugosa' and 'Hyacinthina' may also tolerate dry shade.” I have to say that Diana was much more in favor of not subjecting hostas to dry shade at all!

Ian Scroggy told me: “Any of the Hosta tokudama plants and cultivars are ideal, in drier shady areas the color comes out much better. All of the tokudama plants are very slow to grow so do not require as much moisture in early spring to come into leaf. They are always nearly the last hostas to come into leaf but hold their leaves much longer into October.

Hosta fortunei,hyacinthina,dry shade,Diana Grenfell,Ian Scroggy. Image: © “Other Hostas would be the siebioldiana types; they produce very woody root systems which again really hold moisture in their roots and release it slowly to the plant.  In dry shade H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ will put on extra "bloom" or wax onto its leaves and really looks like someone sprinkled blue powder dust all over the leaves.”

Two interesting aspects to those thoughts from Ian Scroggy. One: slow growing is good, because if plants grow slowly they need less moisture. Two: woody root systems are good for moisture storage.

Fascinating. Thank you Diana and Ian. Now I just need to ask someone about daylilies for dry shade…


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Daylilies for dry shade - yes please! I have El Desperado in a fairly shady bed. It looks lovely when it flowers, but it's not exactly running amok. It does get some sun in the afternoon but most of the time it's shaded by trees.
By the way, I've just posted about yellow pelargoniums, and I'm interested in how they were bred as the leaves are not typical pelargonium leaves, being very soft and floppy. I've searched your site but couldn't find anything on them. If you've got a moment to leave a comment on my blog, I'd be really grateful. Hope to see you at Hampton Court? Love, Victoria

Graham Rice

The one daylily that I've often seen flowering in dry shade is the double form of Hemerocallis fulva - which Diana Grenfell described to me as a "thug". She also begged me not to torture daylilies by planting them in such an inhospitable situation! More on this when I have it.

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