What does HRH the Prince of Wales have in common with a long-dead French consul in the Portuguese colony of Macau? A passion for hostas! The seeds that Charles de Guignes sent to Paris in the late 18th Century fueled the beginnings of a European obsession with these plants which spread to Britain in 1790 when the first hostas were introduced, H. plantaginea
and H. ventricosa.
More than 200 years later, in the jardins of France and the gardens of such British royal residences as the Prince of Wales’ own home, Highgrove House, you can find thousands of cultivars and variants, many directly descended from those earliest introductions.
The continuing public enthusiasm for the genus is evidenced by the fact that Plant Heritage numbers no less than eleven dedicated Hosta collections amongst its 650 National Plant Collections®. Ten of these collections are open to the public and are living libraries of thousands of rare and unusual plants ranging from 83 ‘Very Small and Miniature’ types in the garden of internationally-renowned hosta expert, Mrs. Diana Grenfell to the 1,700 variants proliferating at Mickfield Hostas.
Collection Holders support their collections from their own resources and receive no official funding. So what draws someone to dedicate the enormous time and effort required to build and maintain a significant National Collection; and what happens when they want to retire? A good example of a ‘typical’ Collection Holder, if any of these extraordinarily dedicated people can be considered to be typical, is Ian Scroggy, who holds the only National Collection of Hostas in Ireland.
A professional grower and retailer of plants by mail order and the descendent of a long line of gardeners, plantationers and horticulturalists, Ian showed both commercial instincts and a real talent for raising plants from an early age. At 9 years old, he was growing tomatoes in a polytunnel and selling these to local shops. Seeing hostas in the new mail order catalogues of the 1980s, he could not resist buying 11 old classics such as ‘Frances Williams’, Hosta sieboldiana
‘Elegans’ and ‘Sum and Substance’. From this modest foundation stock his collecting habits grew apace and 27 years later, the current collection stands at over 1500 cultivars and species and breeding new varieties has become the centre of his working life.
When Ian’s collection outgrew his ¼ acre back garden, he was forced to find it a new home. Fortunately, three years ago he was able to buy 4½ acres nearby – slightly sloping, south-facing fields of very heavy wet clay. As Ian’s surname, Scroggy, is a Scottish word meaning ‘stunted bush or tree’, he could not resist planting a third of this land with oaks and the local native alder Alnus glutinosa and naming it Scroggy Wood. An advantage of choosing native trees to populate the wood is their inherent hardiness and resistance to pests and diseases.
Ian has kept his stock free from Hosta virus X and like most hosta growers, wages a constant war against their only real pest, slugs and snails. He recommends spraying a garlic solution onto the leaves every two weeks during active growth as molluscs do not like the taste! Older varieties such as H. undulata
and H. albopicta
are particularly vulnerable to attack as they have thin, toothsome leaves; hosta hybridisers are now working on developing thicker textured leaves and Ian says the stiff, shiny and leathery leaves of the new variety H.
‘One Man’s Treasure’ is avoided by slugs if they can find anything softer to eat.
The flourishing new wood now shelters the hostas that were formerly laid out on double decked benches in his garden. Over time it will provide a more natural setting and a hospitable growing environment, showcasing the staggering diversity of form, colour and texture of one of the largest assemblies of Hosta in Europe. The plants are usually grown for their ornamental value, their ease of cultivation and their willingness to put up with cool, damp and shady areas, but Ian notes that in Japan the petioles (stalks) are considered a culinary delicacy. Grown in dark sheds, the stalks are forced and blanched like rhubarb and eaten steamed with sushi.
Maintaining a collection of this size is a costly business so Ian will soon be opening the wood to the public and inviting supporters and hosta lovers to become Friends of Scroggy Wood. He has no plans as yet to open a sushi café on site!
Further information about the Collection Open Days and the Collections themselves can be found within the website and in the Plant Heritage Directory (published annually).
[i] Hosta – The flowering foliage plant Diana Grenfell Publishers: BT Batsford, London 1990
[ii] The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hostas
Diana Grenfell Publishers: David & Charles 1996