Visitors to the garden remark on the huge leaves of hostas, supposing that the gardener possesses some unique skill to make this so. Certainly, there must be some special fertilizer, or at the least annual applications of manure to grow leaves so large. In all modesty, and modesty is required when the gardener has done nothing at all, huge are mostly a matter of selection of varieties, with some slight praise due for locating hostas in soil and part shade that are ideal for growth.
Instead of fertilizer or manure, the ground beneath hostas is annually dressed with a layer of shredded leaves from maples and tulip poplars that border the southern edge of the garden. This is more a matter of convenience to the gardener so that deep piles must not be hauled to a far off compost bin, but the result is that even in areas of dry shade the soil is chock full of earthworms, a sign (at least to this gardener) of healthy soil.
With deer bedding down during daylight hours in the dense thicket that borders the front garden, monthly spraying of a repellent is a requirement if hostas are to be grown. Once, lesser populations and two hounds (itching for an hours long chase) roamed the property, making preventative measures unnecessary. But, sadly, the hounds passed on, and the better judgment of the gardener and his wife prevented their replacement. Rather than abandoning plants that deer prefer, the repellent effectively encourages deer to move on to more tasty treats.
The selection of hostas is a matter of individual taste, but the gardener can hardly go wrong with any choice. For my money, if the choice was limited to a handful, I would first recommend exceptional variegated hostas ‘Francee’ and ‘Frances Williams’, which are sturdy and tolerant of more sun than most hostas. Probably, these will look good no matter what the gardener does, as will most large, blue-green leafed hostas such as the old time favorite sieboldiana ‘Elegans’.
Despite the acclaim in this garden for large leaves, two small leafed types round out the recommendations. ‘Gold Tiara’ and ‘Allen P. McConnell’ are vigorous enough to be used to fill spaces between taller perennials or shrubs, and to border stone paths without encroaching (as other ground covers are likely to do).
If there is sufficient shade, and if damage from deer can be prevented, should the gardener limit his choices to a handful of the best, or plant one of any hosta that catches his eye? This, of course, is a personal design decision, and no matter that hostas blend well together, the effect of too many differing sizes and colors can be jarring. I dare not claim that I have successfully blended many dozens of varieties, but so long as visitors are distracted by ones with huge leaves, I’ve heard no complaints.