U.S. plant growers have the hots for expensive new hostas .

o By Charles Fenyves, Washington Post
For most of us who grow hostas, the finest hour comes two, three or even four years after planting. Clumps are robust, bursting
with a chorus line of perfectly shaped leaves that are radially symmetrical or gracefully random, dense yet not crowded.

But such displays of foliar excellence are taken for granted among hosta enthusiasts. Their special pleasure is owning a single
clump of the latest superior hybrid, grown only by a handful of gardeners, newly registered with the American Hosta Society and
fetching up to $1,000 at auctions.

Novelty, by definition, is fleeting. As the stock of a new hosta increases and the variety becomes less rare, the price declines.

For instance, a variety called Striptease, developed by growers Rick and Criss Thompson at CR Hosta & Daylilies of Sterling,
Va., and registered in 1991, sold for $150 at this year's national hosta convention.

The plant is a chance variation, or sport, of Gold Standard, with leaves that emerge green, gradually fading to narrow centers of
pale green, occasionally etched in white. Later in the season, the leaves turn chartreuse gold with very wide darkgreen margins.

"Auctions are the exception," says Rick Thompson. "People are willing to pay more. But in the booths, where each root has a tag,
the price of new hostas tops out at $200."

He is propagating a sport of Blue Angel -- the classic blue-leaf hosta many growers consider an all-time best. Thompson has high
hopes for his new hosta, which has a whitish-green center and an irregular blue-and-green margin. He has named it Guardian
Angel.

"The trend is toward more and more variegation," says Kevin Walek of the Potomac Hosta Club. "At auctions, the variegated
ones fetch the best prices."

Another much-appreciated factor is the precise tint of the color blue. "For instance, Blue Ice has been a big award winner," Walek
says. "It is bluer than Halcyon, a great hosta. Blue Ice looks waxier, and its blue is a deep sea blue. Looking at it almost makes
you feel cold."

But blue hostas should not get too much sun. While a gold hosta can live with as much as five hours of direct light -- though
preferably not at midday -- the blue can "melt" above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It turns dark green; its edges may wither.
Lighter-colored hostas will bleach in the sun, and the pale colors of variegated varieties turn even lighter, but that only adds to their
appeal.

Even though it is celebrated as a perfect shade plant, a hosta grows faster, larger and stronger if it gets a few hours of sunshine.
Ideally, they need a total of an hour or two in the early morning or late afternoon. Another possibility is dappled sunlight.

Thompson cautions that many of the new, sophisticated variegated varieties must have a few hours of sun; some perish when put
in the deep shade.

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