Fragrant Hostas

Fragrant Hostas

Fragrant hostas are important both because they are fragrant (obviously), and, not so obviously, because they are often recommended as the best hostas for warmer areas or for sunny locations. 

'Fragrant Bouquet'

 

 

Depending on what you read and who you believe, there are probably twenty-something hosta species found in the wild, but only one, H. plantaginea, has fragrant flowers.  Every fragrant hosta is either a sport or a hybrid of plantaginea. Not only is it the only fragrant species, its pure white flowers are by far the largest of any hosta, 5" or more in length and over 2" wide. No other species comes anywhere close. Many of the fragrant hybrids have larger than normal flowers also, but as far as I know, none are as large as the species.

If you live in the South, areas where the winters aren't too cold and the summers are too hot, growing hostas can be difficult.  The further south you live, the more trouble you are going to have. For those who grow hostas in warm winter areas, some varieties are better than others. Because plantaginea is native to Southern China, which is the warmest area of the genus' natural habitat, it is more adapted to warmer climates than most hostas.

H. plantaginea is also known as the August Lily, because it blooms so late in the season. It is a unique and beautiful hosta, and you would think it would be one of our most popular plants.  And it probably would be, except that we don't grow it.  For us, it is nothing but trouble.  Something in it's genes makes it among the first of the hostas to break dormancy in the spring.  That's probably fine in southern China, but here in Virginia it often gets hit by a late freeze after the leaves come up, turning them to mush.  A late freeze can lead to crown rot, which will sometimes kills the plant, but more often the damage is limited to the leaves and the plant will eventually grow new foliage and fully recover by the summer.  While that may be acceptable in the garden, and with a bit of effort even preventable, unreliable plants are not good for spring shipping around here. 

The other problem is that unless the plant has a long summer growing season, it may not produce flowers.  Gardeners in the northern half of the country may find that it is not a dependable bloomer, and without flowers, it's hardly worth the effort.  That doesn't mean that it can't be successfully grown in the North, just that we've been disappointed enough times to decide that it's not worth the trouble for us to grow.

For those who can grow H. plantaginea successfully, we do try to offer it after the danger of a hard freeze is over in our area, if we can find it available from other growers.  There are many places in the country where it can be grown, in fact, in warm winter areas it may be the best variety to to grow. 

Actually, we can grow plantaginea in our gardens here, because we can accept that it will occasionally suffer severe leaf damage in the spring.  While that's something we can handle in our own garden, it certainly wouldn't be acceptable for a plant that we were sending to a customer. 

We recommend that you try the plant at least once. Even in the cold winter areas, people have grown the plant for many years. Sometimes the weather cooperates and sometimes it doesn't.  It is totally unique among hostas and if you can grow it you will love it.  

All is not lost however. Many of the plantaginea hybrids, especially 'Fragrant Bouquet' and its many sports have wonderfully fragrant flowers.  Admittedly they are not as large as the species, nor quite as fragrant, but they come pretty close. And the hybrids generally break dormancy later than the species and do not need as long a growing season to produce flowers.  While they still may need some protection from a late frost, we have found them much easier to grow in the North than the species.

And in the South, while the hybrids may not be quite as heat tolerant as plantaginea, given adequate water in the summer, they are probably better suited to hot, humid conditions than most hostas. Because blue hostas in general do not hold up well in the South, 'Fragrant Blue' may be an exception.