It’s a Small, Small, World-Mini Hostas

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Mini hostas spilling out of a strawberry jar

A shade workhorse, hostas, according to the Perennial Plant Association are the most widely planted perennial in the world. Easily tucked into small places in the garden, and a perfect accent in trough and other miniature garden containers, these diminutive hostas are becoming a crowd favorite.

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Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’

On the pricey side, these adorable plants are being snatched up everywhere. They can run from $18 too $30 a piece.

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Planted into the garden, miniature hostas stay low to the ground and form a tapestry of color, making a great ground cover, seen at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Usually less than 6 inches high, miniature hostas should be placed carefully in a garden bed so you don’t lose sight of them when other plants encroach. That is why I like to use them in trough gardens. You are placing this little gem in a highly visible location for maximum impact in a container. But try planting a rainbow of them in a garden bed for a great little ground cover in the shade. Recently I made a trip to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Media, Pennsylvania and was impressed with the variety available.

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A trough with ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ backed by potted miniature hostas at  Carolyn’s Shade Garden

And the names!! Mini Skirt, Lemon Lime, Blue Mouse Ears, Neutrino, Cracker Crumbs, Dew Drop, Shiny Penny, Appletini, Baby Blue Eyes, Little Red Rooster, Tears of Joy, Sunlight Child, Curley, Sun Mouse, Church Mouse, Kiwi Golden Thimble- the list goes on and on. Marketing a plant is all about finding that perfect name and these minis take the prize for catchy names.

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Irresistible with sculptural leaves and charming textures make it difficult to stop at one, and you’ll be tempted to fill a garden with them. Taking up less space in a space challenged property, and ideally suited to container growing, these little minis are perfect on their own or as a companion plant.

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‘Blue Mouse Ears’ tucked into a boulder crevice

Easily grown like all the larger widely known large hostas, they are pretty indestructible. For the best care of hostas, plant them in rich organic soil with a slightly acidic pH.

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Flowering like champs, the minis perform like their larger relatives

Drainage, like with so many plants, is most important. Dormant season crown rot is one of the few diseases that attack these plants.  With this in mind, when newly planted, keep the roots moist, not wet. Once established, hosta plants aren’t fussy and are very tolerant of summer drought and last for years.

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Perfect for fairy gardens, this one is ‘Blue Mouse Ears’

One of deer’s favorite food, plant hostas in containers if you have a property overrun with these pests.

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Planted next to a ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera, adds some contrast to this mini

For my post on a hosta nursery, go to Happy Hollow-Hosta Mecca to see more varieties or Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

Happy Hollow- Hosta Mecca

Hosta Heaven
Hosta Heaven

Do you want a  garden trip to a run of the mill big box store? Or do you want personal attention? And do you have shady areas in your garden that need TLC and need the ideal plant for that perfect spot? Look no further than Happy Hollow nursery in Cockeysville, MD. Specializing in hostas and other shade loving plants, Sue Bloodgood grows the most extensive collection of hostas around and can share excellent advice on plantings in difficult shady areas that you are scratching your head about.

Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow
Selections of miniature Hostas at Happy Hollow

Carrying over 200 hosta varieties, Happy Hollow nursery is tucked away in a suburban neighborhood in Cockeysville, MD, and a great place to see the many varieties of Hostas. These can vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that are puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged — the variations are virtually endless. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer which are attractive to pollinators.

Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas
Sue Bloodgood surveying her dizzying array of hostas
A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the 'littles' come in
A tray of miniature hostas showing the variety that the ‘littles’ come in

Two large greenhouses full to the brim with hostas and other shade companion plants, like Brunnera, Pulmonaria, Tricyrtus, and shade grasses, Sue carries many unusual and hard to find plants, like “Praying Hands” Hosta.

Praying Hands Hosta
Praying Hands Hosta

Praying Hands is a 2′ wide clump composed of strangely folded, dark green crinkled leaves, each with a narrow, creamy yellow border which resembles a multitude of hands folded in prayer.

Praying Hands Hosta
Praying Hands Hosta

I went to Happy Hollow when I needed some miniature hostas for some clients. My local wholesaler carried about 3 varieties of minis and I needed more. Sue Bloodgood carried at least 2 dozen varieties of minis and it was hard to choose from them all.

I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas
I was designing plantings for a boulder garden in the shade and wanted miniature hostas

 I fell in love with one of her hostas, called ‘Striptease’ and had to take one home.

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Hosta ‘Striptease”
Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants
Hostas are the perfect foil for so many plants

 

 Boutique nurseries are becoming more and more popular when you are looking for something unusual and the selection at the big box stores can be limited. I haven’t seen miniature hostas other than ‘Mouse Ears’ or the one pictured above called ‘Striptease’ anywhere before, and I do a lot of plant shopping. Catering to a small segment of the discerning buying public, boutique nurseries are struggling to stay in business and are competing with larger nurseries that carry a little bit of everything. But Happy Hollow doesn’t sell fertilizer, pots, or bird houses – they simply sell the best hostas anywhere. And for personal attention and advice for gardening in the shade, stop in at Happy Hollow Nursery.

Hosta "Mouse Ears" is adorable!
Hosta “Mouse Ears” is adorable!

For more ideas on shady ground covers, go to my post “From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade “.

A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet
A simple ground cover of hostas can be very effective-Blue Cadet
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This one is Kabitan

 For more info on Happy Hollow Nursery, go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Happy-Hollow-Nursery-hours-10-5-Wed-Sun-call-for-special-appointment/1459714117597679?fref=ts

New Patio-Old House

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Old houses are so picturesque and have lots of charm inside, but outside can be a different story. I got a call for a job for an early 1800’s house that had been decorated to the nines inside but lacked the same appeal on the outside.

Stone Work

There were several obstacles-one was the imposing curved brick wall around the sun room with the steep drop down to the lower level (lower blue arrow). The other was the very small exit from the brick surround to the grassy area, only 2 1/2 feet wide (upper blue arrow).

Adding an upper patio and cutting out a new wider entrance
Adding an upper patio and cutting out a new wider entrance

The first order of business was to add a mortared blue stone patio behind the mud room (small off-set room), replacing the old brick pavers next to the house. Adding six or seven large four to five feet wide guillotined steps curving down the slope took care of the steep drop from the patio.

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We filled in the old narrow opening with new brick and removed old brick to create a wider five foot wide opening making for easier access. At the bottom of the steps, large steppers curved around the imposing brick wall.

Large steppers curve around brick wall
Large steppers curve around brick wall

A small water feature was installed on the upper patio.

Placing the base of the water feature
Placing the base of the water feature

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Right outside the mudroom door we built a small entrance patio to the larger patio. A sitting wall encircled the larger patio to give additional seating room. Lighting was installed around the patio and down the steps.

Small entrance patio
Small entrance patio
Sitting wall
Sitting wall

Plantings

The lighting was partial shade and I didn’t have to worry with deer as the house was surrounded by farm fields that interested the deer more. Between the wall and the steps, I planted Serbian Cypress, Microbiota decussata, an evergreen ground cover that stays low to the ground and is quite beautiful. It looks like juniper but has a softer texture and doesn’t have the disease problems that junipers can get.

Serbian Cypress is next to the brick wall
Serbian Cypress is next to the brick wall

 

Serbian Cypress
Serbian Cypress

On the right side of the steps, I planted pink drift roses which bloom all summer long and stay low and mound like. The gold perennial between the steps is ‘Angelina’ Sedum.

Base of the steps plantings
Base of the steps plantings

Around the base of the steps, I planted ‘Guacamole’ Hosta, ‘Patriot’ Hosta, variegated ‘Solomans Seal’, Japanese Painted Fern, and ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea for some height.

Frances Williams Hosta
Frances Williams Hosta

Down on the existing patio there was a foot wide strip of soil that needed plantings and I chose ‘Frances Williams’ Hosta for its spectacular size and leaf markings.

Japanese Painted Fern 'Ghost'
Japanese Painted Fern ‘Ghost’
A tricolor beech brightens up the border next to the house
A tricolor beech brightens up the border next to the house

Additional plantings were added around the house to spruce it up when the rear patio and plantings were completed. A tri-color Beech gives the shady side planting bed a pop of color and and vertical element.

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Kousa Dogwood in full bloom set in the lawn
Kousa Dogwood in full bloom set in the lawn

 

From the Ground Up – Choosing the Right Ground Cover for Shade

Stone bridge covered with grass

I recently toured a gorgeous private garden that is stunning for it’s beauty and classic garden design.  I enjoyed strolling through the woodland gardens that were peaking with spring color and was struck by the innovative use of ground covers. No overly used big three –  pachysandra, vinca, or ivy to be seen!

With all these choices available, I can’t understand anyone who sticks with the common ordinary big three. If you are a fan of the color blue, you will love these. So read on, and pick the best for you!

Spanish bluebells

Bluebell Wood

Who ever thought about using Bluebells as a ground cover? It blooms beautifully and then disappears for another late comer to cover up.

Spanish Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a great mid spring bloomer that spans the gap between the early arrivals of spring bulbs such as snowdrops, to the later arrival of mid summer perennials. Their best feature, other than the beautiful blue color, is that they will bloom in deep shade as well as in full sunlight. You can naturalize them in a shady woodland underneath evergreen or deciduous trees and they will steadily increase over the years to carpet the ground in an azure swath.

Spanish Bluebells

Bluebells are a bulb and come in pink and white as well, but the blue is my favorite by far. They are easy to grow in any woodland condition but will thrive where it is well-drained and with ample moisture. I grow them in my perennial borders with no special care and the foliage will disappear by midsummer.  Because of this feature, you can underplant it with another creeping ground cover such as ajuga or sweet woodruff that can will take over once the foliage has died down.

Virginia Bluebells –  A Native

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, is the native version of Spanish Bluebells.  Instead of the strap like foliage of Spanish Bluebells, the leaves are very broad and tissue like in texture. The flower color is an intense cornflower blue.

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Virginia Bluebells are a spring ephemeral like so many early woodland bloomers, dying back to the ground. So be sure to have something else like the native woodland phlox to take its place.

Native Virginia Bluebells in full bloom
Lamiastrum with Bluebells

Woodland Phlox

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, is a native about 9 inches tall that comes in pastel blue, pink, and white.  I love it, but find that it is a very short-lived plant, only two or three seasons. Who knew that there were so many kinds of phloxes?  This plant comes in a creeping, woodland, tall garden, and miniature alpine varieties, and some variations in between. Most people are not familiar with the range of varieties available. The Woodland Phlox is a very beautiful member of the family.

Woodland Phlox

Crested Wood Iris

Crested Wood Iris ground cover

Another underused ground cover is the Crested Wood Iris, or Iris cristata. This diminutive little Iris is only about 6 inches tall and blooms with a miniature azure colored Iris bloom and will spread steadily but not aggressively.  It is perfectly adorable! The deer ignore it also. Wood Iris will bloom in very deep shade.

Flower of Crested Iris

 Solomans Seal

Solomans Seal, Polygonatum variegatum, is a workhorse perennial for me.  Plant a small colony of a dozen, and after splitting it up regularly for several years, you will end up with a large swath of nodding white bells! Be warned – Deer do like to browse on them.  This perennial will not thrive amongst others as it covers the ground  with underground tubers and lasts all season long. Nothing else will grow where Solomans Seal takes over but a large drift is a sight to behold.  Yellow fall foliage is a bonus, something that surprises me every year!

Solomans Seal

Hostas

Just about everyone knows and grows hostas.  A tough plant that is hard to kill, it is a deer magnet for browsing.  But if bambi doesn’t roam nearby, try planting large colonies of the same variety for a great looking ground cover.  I prefer planting the same variety together, as mixing different ones tends to look busy.  Hostas have so many colorations and sizes that when you combine many varieties, it just doesn’t work.

Blue Cadet Hosta

Kabitan Hosta
Kabitan Hosta closeup

Green and Gold

Another golden ground cover that will brighten a shady area is Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum, or Golden Star.  A native also, it is known for its star like flowers and creeping hairy leaves.  Green and Gold loves moisture and will thrive in a boggy area.   I grow it in ordinary garden conditions and it does just fine.  It does need some shade or will burn in full sun.

Green and Gold embracing a tree

 Hellebores or Lenten Roses

I have been advocating the use of Lenten Roses or Hellebores, as an evergreen, long blooming, deer resistant ground cover for years.  The plants are a little pricey but will slowly fill in and throw off seedlings that will cover your ground before you know it. Did I mention that it blooms for three months, sometimes longer? Everyone who has a shady garden should grow these.

A flock of Hellebores!
Beautiful coloration of a Hellebore flower

Japanese Maples as a Ground Cover?

Who would have thought of using Japanese Maples as a ground cover?  Expensive, yes, but it works beautifully! Japanese Maples are an understory tree and the cut leaf weeping ones certainly cover the ground nicely.  Also, the fall coloration is fantastic!

Japanese Maple ground cover

Golden Ragwort

I really hate that name! Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, is another native which I like to use in shady or semi-shady conditions.  Senecio blooms with a cheerful daisy-like flower for weeks in the spring. The rosettes of deep shiny heart-shaped leaves are attractive the rest of the growing season. This ground cover will spread steadily and you might have to restrain it a bit, but it is definitely not a garden thug!

Golden Ragwort native ground cover

Yellow Wax Bells

Yellow Wax Bells, or Kirengeshoma palmata is a showy shade loving ground cover or accent plant. The yellow bell-like flowers nod on the branches in late summer and the foliage is a maple look-alike. It is a beautiful plant, especially when it blooms.

Yellow Wax Bells
Kirengoshoma flower

Forget Me Not

Another deer resistant ground cover which I recommend is Brunnera or Forget-me-not. This is the perennial Forget-me-not, not to be confused with Myosotis which is a biennial. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’  is the perennial plant of the year for 2012 and deservedly so because of it’s beauty and toughness.  Deer give it a wide berth because of the fuzzy foliage and it will hide early spring bulb foliage because it emerges right when the bulbs are dying back.  ‘Jack Frost’ is a great cultivar with silver to white webbing on the leaf surface that shines in the shade. The plant is topped off with airy panicles of true blue tiny flowers.

Jack Frost Brunnera

Spurge

The last shade ground cover plant that I want to highlight is Euphorbia amygdaloides or Spurge.  Evergreen and deer resistant, spurge is topped with lime green flowers in the spring.  I am a sucker for lime green flowers! The color really brightens a dark area.  This euphorbia easily grows in shade or sun and sports rosettes of leathery leaves all season long.

Euphorbia flowers