They shrunk the hostas!

Here's last week's Kirkus post, and I've added a giveaway to it. Check here for Susan's take on Felder Rushing's Slow Gardening.

Little Hostas book

Hostas—not the most exciting plant, but gardeners who have to deal with heavy soil, part-to-full shade, and aggressive tree roots know their value. They easily thrive under these difficult conditions to form a lush green carpet, punctuated in mid-summer by more or less attractive flowering spears. In my area of the world, I would say with confidence that hostas, daylilies, and rudbeckias are among our top 5 go-to plants.

And I imagine most gardeners know how many hostas are available. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. The temptation is to buy one of each—green with white stripes, blue with yellow blotches, thick-leaved, thin-leaved, scented or non—and mix them all together. Such mixing works pretty well with daylilies, but with most hostas, it’s just a big hot mess (I know because I’ve tried it). The plants are different heights with different leaf-spans, and it just doesn’t work.

This is where the new small hostas come in.  Small, very small, and miniature varieties of hostas are easily collectable, and collectability is important for the obsessive gardener. Breeders have been creating small hostas since the 70s, but according to Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack, authors of The Book of Little Hostas (Timber, 2010), interest became strong in 1996, with the introduction of ‘Pandora’s Box,’ a white variety with a feathered blue-green margin. Now, dozens of tiny hostas are introduced every year.


Little hostas are perfect to group together in containers, or for a small alpine bed—a rock garden for shade. They look great all mixed up, as long as they are well-spaced, perhaps interplanted with some interesting ground covers and mulches. Another affinity is with hypertufa containers—bowls and troughs you can create yourself out of peat, cement, and perlite. The Shadracks own a creekside property south of Buffalo that has several acres of perennial gardens, including one devoted to small hostas. It also has, closer to the house, some groupings of hypertufa containers filled with shade plants—ferns and begonias as well as hostas.

The Book of Little Hostas includes a listing of 200 plants, as well as information on how to choose, grow, place, and get them through the winter.  It’s useful and beautifully illustrated, but the book is only part of the story. Kathy and Michael Shadrack are among America’s most amusing and informative gardening personalities.  Mike, a former London Bobby and longtime hosta expert, met Kathy on a visit to Western New York and found that in order for the relationship to work, he’d have to move to the U.S. So he did, and the two united their plant obsessions to continue writing and create one of the area’s most visited private gardens.  The Shadracks frequently lecture, both separately and apart. Catch them if you can—find out how at

I'll give a copy of this book away to a random commenter, so let's hear how you feel about hostas, small or otherwise! The drawing wil take place tomorrow (Friday) at 5 EST.

Posted by on August 11, 2011 at 5:00 am, in the category Books.
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55 responses to “They shrunk the hostas!”

  1. I’m in Central Ohio, and for us, hostas are a staple. My yard is a woodland border and we have dozens of hostas. Even though we have many other more “exciting” plants, hostas are probably my favorite. They’re cheap, hardy, and, easy to divide and share.

  2. Abby says:

    Oh, I love hostas, the bigger, the better, but now I will have to look into the littles.

  3. Rebecka Clifton says:

    I have “mouse ears” – it is just a little darling. It is planted in my rock garden, nestled amongst an overhanging rock. Love the little hostas!

  4. I think you are underselling hostas. Their graceful leaves and, to my eye, beautiful flowers make them some of my favorites shade or sun.

  5. maria says:

    I will have to look into this as I need some plants not too big in my small garden.

  6. virginia says:

    I love Hostas, and wish that I could grow them. Small ones, bigger ones which-ever, I am not in the most appropriate setting for them though.. :(!!

  7. Jen. says:

    Oh, I need more hostas. I can understand the obsession; currently, I covet just about every one at the Cleveland Botanical Garden!

  8. Melissa says:

    I love hostas myself. We have a shade garden with hostas and ferns and they look surprising pretty together.

  9. Thad says:

    Just moved into our new house and the yard is a mess, but the one thing that really made me smile was the small clump of hostas that we uncovered. They had somehow survived being overrun by weeds and grass, but we cleared the area out around them and they almost immediately rewarded us with blooms! Now, we just need to add some more and my preference would be a selection of the smaller ones.


  10. Marte says:

    The first plant I became obsessive about was the hosta, many years ago, and I still have many in my gardens. They truly are a “go-to” plant and here in the north even do pretty well in sun. I would love another hosta book to add to my collection, even though I am now almost completely consumed by the iris virus.

  11. Hostas are great plants but unfortunately just won’t make it in my all-sun Kansas-arid garden. But small ones, now those might just be the thing for a shaded rock garden or under a deck!

  12. Laura Burtness says:

    I love little hostas – it’s a collection I don’t have to dust!

  13. JessicaCRB says:

    Wait…they really come in miniature?! Adorable! I want one!

  14. Jodi says:

    I love my miniatures as well as all my mediums and giants! Due to tree loss, my shade spots are shrinking, so it’s been a challenge keeping them all. I also really disagree about mixing the big ones—if you do it right, the effect is stunning. I can’t believe you described them as “not exciting.”

  15. coco massol says:

    people don’t usually like hostas??! I LOVE ‘EM! as a freshly liberated closet gardener from puerto rico, i stumbled upon my enchantment for these plants… i could easily say they’re my favorite kind! probably because they just thrive in my little cabin in the middle of the woods, and they look stunning. thanks to your post i found out their name!

    i’m always searching for new varieties to glam up my new space. some friends even call me obsessed.

    … … now… if only i could find the perfect hosta tattoo 😉

  16. Ann says:

    Hostas make me appreciate the beauty of subtle variations in the color green. They are a mainstay of my dry, shady backyard. I’ve got a few miniatures scattered around but would like to group them in a container for greater impact. I am just waiting until I find the right container.

  17. tropaeolum says:

    Does the book cover how to keep slugs from eating the whole shebang?

    Between the deer and the slugs, it’s hard to grow a decent hosta here. I’ll have to try the hypertufa idea.

  18. Judy Fairlamb says:

    I’m learning to love Hosta’s, I only have a handful of different varieties so far, but I can see the need for the minitature varieties, I need some. I’d LOVE to have this book!

  19. Vickie says:

    Hostas do really well in my garden. The only problem I have is keeping the deer from eating them.

  20. ChrissyInMN says:

    Hostas are wonderful plants – large and small. The more I have, the more I want!

  21. Jennifer says:

    These are so sweet! I do not have any little hostas… but thinking maybe I should! 🙂

  22. Sarah says:

    I love hostas in wooded and rural areas. Fortunately, I live in both! In the urban setting, though, I usually feel they are out of place and clash with the more manicured gardens.

  23. Kim Beierlein says:

    After seeing the collection at White Flower Farm last summer, I am deeply impressed. We are working on the landscaping around our home addition and hostas have been a wonderful addition with all of the variety that is available. I had just borrowed the book in question from our library and through it have found a new area to collect from.

  24. Ann says:

    As someone with heavy clay soil and a great deal of shade I lust after hostas, some of them have leaves that look hand-painted to me. Sadly, I live in Austin, where heat and pests conspire to make hostas no more than a dream.

  25. CindyP says:

    I love the little hostas, I have 5 different varieties, one of which did not even have a label but I bought it anyway.

    I was lucky enough to hear the Shadracks speak several years ago and own one of their books already.

    I’m going to have to look for the book on Little Hostas, maybe I can identify my unlabeled one!

  26. Jim Crowell says:

    I am afraid that if my wife sees this book we will spend all of our budget next year on wee hostas.

  27. Deirdre says:

    I just wish slugs didn’t love Hosta so very much, and that they were a little more drought tolerant, but they are pretty. I especially like the plantagenea hybrids with white, fragrant flowers. I wonder if there is a mini version of those?

  28. The best thing about hostas is that they’re edible! 🙂

  29. David says:

    I love hostas because it is one of the only plants I’ve not been able to kill.

  30. Stephanie says:

    So cute, who doesn’t love tiny hostas!

  31. Ali M says:

    All good things come in small packages, even hostas.

    I LOVE Stilleto, awesome flowers and neat skinny leaves.

  32. Laura says:

    I’d love to grow some mini hostas, but I’ve only seen ‘mouse ears’ in person. The coloring of hostas can be so subtle, I’m reluctant to order from a catalog.

  33. Hecate says:

    I have a very shady yard. Lots of hostas. Made a normal walkway from the front yard to the back yard quite pretty with hostas and astilbe. In the woodland garden, I grown them with butterbur.

  34. Kathleen says:

    I love hostas! So do the deer 🙁 But I keep trying anyway.

  35. Deb says:

    Hostas – I started out hating them, not sure why. Then I moved to a house on a street named “woodland” where the sunny spots still fall into the “partly shady” category. I have embraced hostas as they do well here and look great against our stone walls (unless we have weeks of 90+ degree weather, then they look pretty ratty). I prefer hostas with smaller leaves – the ones with big, heavily veined leaves are creepy, IMHO. And the blossoms -again, IMHO, they need to be clipped once the flowers start to fade. Nothing worse than those bare spikes sticking out.
    I’m intrigued by the teeny ones, especially grown in holey rocks or containers.

  36. Autumn says:

    Hostas?…meh…I’d be surprised if they could surprise me.

  37. Sally in SC says:

    Hostas are a wonderful contrast to my obsession with tiny leafed plants. Unfortunately, the voles pull them down into the earth and devour them. Hostas in pots need watering twice a day here in the south. Next plan: lining a rock walled bed with hardware cloth specifically so we can grow the coveted hostas.

  38. Catherine says:

    Much as I love hostas, I live in a deer-infested area, and mostly see the chewed remnants. Yes, deer can hop right over a 5-foot high fence from a standstill. So, I’ve convinced my DH that I need a tall fenced in area in at least a small area so I can plant what I love with no worries. I’d love the information on miniature hosta this book apparently provides.

  39. Lancaster huge back yard says:

    I have a huge Hosta in my sunken garden, that I inherited, but am not fond of. Based on that plant I decided I didn’t like Hostas period. Boy was I wrong. I spent the last month in Wisconsin helping with the recall effort in North West Wisconsin and as I knocked doors I was blown away, first by the beautiful gardening alternatives to turf, but even more so by the beautiful use of all kinds of hostas. Now I can’t wait to experiment more in my own garden and and yard, and little hostas might be the ticket.

  40. Christine says:

    Not the most exciting? Ok, agreed. Lilies win easily, but my ‘Sum and substance’ is astonishing in its second year. And ‘Blue Angel’ among native sword ferns is a wonderful combination of colors and textures. All the other shade plants seem done with their blooming for the summer, but there are still hostas getting ready to bloom under my maple tree.

  41. Sue Bankston says:

    I work heavy red clay and massive tree roots in the deep south and must say that I enjoy seeing my hostas return annually and unfurl their beautiful leaves. They are plants that can be counted on! I’m very interested in the minis but don’t have any…yet!

  42. Rachel says:

    I love hostas! They look lush in the hot dry part of the summer with just a little bit of watering!

  43. Dave says:

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    Hostas are great,
    And complement the garden in bloom.

  44. Deborah says:

    I love hostas! In the garden I designed for my mum, in which there is quite a bit of shade, I used several varieties. 10 years later, the blue sieboldiana types (was it ‘Big Daddy’?) are absolutely huge, looking like blue lakes in the middle of the green foliage. I used a few small hostas, and would love to get to know a few more, since I garden in a tiny plot in the city, and don’t have room for the full-sized ones.

  45. Debbie says:

    The photos of little hostas are cute, but what always attracts me to hostas is their enormous size. Those huge leaves in so many shades of green and so many different patterns! They bring a tropical kind of glamor to northern gardens.

  46. HeatherC says:

    I am in love with my Big Daddy hosta and its bowl-shaped leaves full of rainwater, but I also have Mouse Ears and want more minis…either way, since I have been transplanted to Maryland they are a way for me to stay connected to my Dad and his side of the family back in Ohio, where we have always had a great affection for hostas.

  47. Nancy says:

    When I was a beginner gardener, I was turned off by hostas. Everyday I drove past a house with a steep front yard, covered only with plain green hostas. They looked ok in late spring through mid summer, then looked horribly ratty the rest of the year. Now, as a more “experienced” gardener, I find that as the years go by, leaf form, texture and color are as important to me as flowers-sometimes more so. Gardening with a lot of shade, I love the way hostas look with ferns, epimediums and astilbes. Thinking about filling one of my hypertufa containers with little ferns and hostas for my shady front porch for next year.

  48. Backyard Misting Systems ame says:

    I have a bunch of Hostas in my backyard and i love it!

  49. John Cardero says:

    I absolutely love hostas and plant them every year.

  50. Michele Owens says:

    I still don’t understand why the publisher didn’t name this The BIG Book of Little Hostas.

  51. david box says:

    Agreed not the most exciting plant, but invaluable here in the Northwest. Find the “Little” ones perfect along paths, tucked in on the edges, little surprise. Thanks for the info, as always, Love Garden Rant, a new reader, now an avid reader. A great place to learn, smile!

  52. Nora says:

    Hosta’s are great! But to me, it’s the bigger the better! In my small yard I would rather have one or two GIANT hostas, than a whole bunch of little ones. Their lush, huge leaves are what makes them stunning.

  53. Josie says:

    I love hostas. However, being in Northeast PA, I’ve found that the deer love them more than I do. Munch, munch, munch. Still I refuse to give up and continue to plant and spray with disgusting smelling deer repellent. One day I will be victorious!

  54. Lu says:

    I am late for the drawing… but I don’t need the book anyway.
    I cannot stand hostas. They are plain, tacky and uninteresting.
    Maybe it’s not the plant itself, it’s the places where it grows. People in our area who don’t care what’s in their gardens usually end up with hostas.

  55. Susan D says:

    A dear friend introduced me to mini hostas this year – she is quite skilled
    at tucking them into unexpected and whimsical places – a crevice in a rock wall, pretty little containers and such. As a gift I gave her blue mouse ears, but I was tempted to keep it for myself 😉 I’d love to share this book with her too!