by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden
Some people collect figurines; others acquire cars, stamps, coins, dolls or vinyl records. It always starts with one, right? Before you know it, your hobby becomes an obsession.
I have over 100 hosta varieties in my yard today. Yes, it’s time for an intervention. Some of my hostas are highly sought after by hosta enthusiast friends of mine: War Paint, Ice Age Trail, Fried Green Tomatoes, Rainbow’s End, Brother Stefan and many others. Others are not as impressive. Among them is the first hosta plant I acquired with the purchase of our first home more than 23 years ago.
Back in the early days of my marriage I didn’t even know what a hosta was, and to be honest, they didn’t seem very impressive to me. “It’s just a bunch of leaves,” I thought. Our first home as a young couple didn’t have much in the way of gardens, but the previous owner did make some attempts in the small strip of soil that bordered the outside of our home. Nestled between a concrete walkway and the fieldstone foundation were tiger lilies, spiderwort, coneflowers, creeping phlox and a smattering of annual poppies that seemed to find their place in the cracks of our sidewalk. The big lanky leaves of that mystery hosta didn’t seem to compare with those delicate blooms. To describe that hosta, I would say, “It’s green.”
With the old home came old trees that towered fifty feet or more into the sky and cast shadows over much of the rest of the property. As my interest in gardening grew, and the sunny spots surrounding my house were filled, I realized my only option was to venture into the shadows and plant shade-loving plants. Back in the day, the only shade perennials available were hostas, so I started looking for those that offered more than the plain old green kind I had. I added ‘Drinking Gourd’ with its blue corrugated leaves, and the massive ‘Elegans,’ later acquiring the stunning variegated ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Paul’s Glory.’ Hostas began to grow on me, both literally and figuratively, and before I knew it, I had more than 50 varieties. For years, I didn’t know what variety of hosta that first one was, but later learned it was called ‘Ventricosa,’ one of the few hostas that will come true from seed.
Our first home was over 100 years old and was purchased as a fixer-upper. It lived up to the challenge with its warped floors, outdated kitchen and knob and tube wiring. Like many young, eager couples, my husband and I had a dream of fixing it up in a couple years and selling it for a huge profit so we could purchase the home we really wanted. Needless, to say, it was fifteen years before we finally put it on the market. In that time, many hostas were acquired and many memories made, both joyful and incredibly painful. There was the joyous time with family, the bonding of friendships, the connection between neighbors, and way too many stories about being awoken by the flutter of bat wings in the middle of the night than I care to tell.
And then there are memories of those whose footsteps would never again be heard creaking atop the old maple wood floors, like that of my dad who spent countless hours helping paint the old cedar shake siding, my father-in-law defeating everyone at cribbage after a Thanksgiving meal, and my husband’s mom laughing at a family gathering. That house held so much joy… and so much grief as I recall sitting in numb silence at the kitchen counter after hanging up the phone, hearing of their passing, one by one, to that great garden in the sky. I still hold a place in my heart for that house, despite the toil, expense and even painful memories that it brings back. Now we’re making more memories in a different home, but I still have a piece of that first hosta placed prominently in one of my shade gardens. It’s one of the few original items remaining from that home. Each time I pass by, I’m reminded of the history it holds, the memories it conjures up, and the love that it has witnessed through the years.