Large Hostas Get the Spotlight

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


Hosta 'Blue Angel'Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ used as a shrub.

After writing three posts on miniature and small hostas, I thought large hostas deserved their place in the sun (or shade).  Although I love miniature hostas, large hostas are also dear to my heart and plentiful in my landscape.  I use them both as specimen plants and also for massing with other hostas to fill shady areas.  There are so many hosta cultivars out there, over 8,000,  that I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.  I have included some close ups of their beautiful leaves as well as photos of how I use them in the garden.

My Hosta ‘Liberty’ was planted last year so it has not reached its true size and coloring, but its leaves are still gorgeous.

A full grown ‘Liberty’ in a local garden.

‘Liberty’ with my husband Michael for scale.

I wanted to start with ‘Liberty’ because it was chosen by the American Hosta Grower’s Association as the 2012 Hosta of the Year.  This is a great honor bestowed on only 18 of the over 8,000 hosta cultivars (to see other winners, click here), and I make a point of selling them and growing them in my garden.  ‘Liberty’ is a sport (off shoot) of  ‘Sagae’ with the same vase-shaped habit but much wider creamy yellow margins.  It reaches 2′ tall and 5′ wide with 10″ leaves.


A close up of a leaf of Hosta ‘Striptease’ shows the very unusual “lightening strike” of white running around and through the lime green center.

Three ‘Striptease’ plants make a sizable clump.

‘Striptease’ massed with ‘Blue Angel’ above and H. tokudama ‘Gold Bullion’ and ‘Flavocircinalis’ right.

‘Striptease’ was the Hosta of the Year for 2005.  The white streaks on its leaves really make it stand out—the pattern is rare in the hosta world where many plants look alike.  It is a sport of the old favorite ‘Gold Standard’.  At maturity, it is 20″ high and 4′ wide with 8″ leaves.

leaf of Hosta ‘Paradigm’

Again my ‘Paradigm’ is not mature and does not display its true beauty but when I saw a mature plant I had to have one.

Yes, ‘Paradigm’ is another Hosta of the Year, this time for 2007.  Its leaves are gold-centered and heavily corrugated (textured), a quality I love in the hostas that display it.  Its near white flowers are also quite lovely.  At maturity, it is 2′ high by 4′ wide with almost 12″ leaves.  I can’t wait.

 leaf of Hosta ‘Sagae’

A close up of the vase-shaped (upright) habit of ‘Sagae’

‘Sagae’ planted at the top of a wall to show off its gorgeous habit, with native ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud

I first fell in love with this hosta at Longwood gardens, and it was labeled H. fluctuans ‘Variegata’.  I wrote down the name and searched for it for years before I figured out its name was changed to ‘Sagae’.  Of course, ‘Sagae’ was chosen to be a Hosta of the Year for 2000.  Its upright mounding habit makes it a perfect specimen.  At maturity, it reaches 31″ high by 70″ wide with 13″ leaves.

pollen-covered leaf of Hosta ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’

 mature clump of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’

‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ in front of an antique church gate covered with clematis and native honeysuckle.

It is hard to explain why I like ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ so much.  Perhaps it is the substantial blue-green leaves or the neat and even habit or the lovely fragrant flowers or just its clever name.  ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ is not a hosta of the year, but it is the sport of one, ‘Guacamole’, the 2002 Hosta of the Year, and it is considered an exceptional cultivar.  It reaches 2′ high by 5′ wide with 11″ leaves.

leaf of Hosta ‘Great Expectations’

   ‘Great Expectations’ makes a gorgeous clump.

‘Great Expectations’ in a very shady area under a Japanese maple with ‘Emerald Tiara’ hosta.

Finally, a hosta that is not a hosta of the year (or a relative of one), but, as far as I’m concerned, it should be.  One of my favorites and a bestseller at my nursery, ‘Great Expectations’ forms a large but not overwhelming mound of heavily corrugated, creamy yellow-centered leaves with wide blue-green margins.  Its near white flowers in June and July are beautiful.  A mutation of ‘Elegans’, it reaches 2′ high by 4′ wide at maturity with 12″ leaves.

leaf of Hosta ‘Fragrant Bouquet’

‘Fragrant Bouquet’ makes a nice mound.

‘Fragrant Bouquet’ with yellow waxbells, leopard’s bane, and pulmonaria.

It is not surprising that ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ was the 1998 Hosta of the Year.  It is a very useful hosta in the shady landscape because of its overall light-colored leaves, which are pale chartreuse with creamy yellow edges—it looks great with yellow flowers.  I also love its fragrant blooms and manageable size.  At maturity it is supposed to reach 22″ high by 4′ wide with 10″ leaves but mine are not that big.

 leaf of Hosta ‘Blue Angel’

‘Blue Angel’ used as a specimen shrub with hellebores, hardy geranium, and old-fashioned bleeding-heart (see the photo at the very top too).


 ‘Blue Angel’ massed with ‘Blue Cadet’ and ‘Guacamole’ hostas and ‘Ghost’ fern  (see also the photo with ‘Striptease’).

‘Blue Angel’ is not a hosta of the year, but it would be the absolute top of the list of my choices.  Hostas of the year should be tried and true and the best in their class and that is what ‘Blue Angel’ is.  Do you hear me AHGA?  It is simply the premier large blue hosta in existence, excellent as a specimen and in masses with other hostas.  It is stunning in June and July when topped by its near white flowers and gorgeous throughout the fall with its heavily corrugated, substantial blue leaves.  At maturity, ‘Blue Angel’ reaches 32″ high by 70″ wide with 16″ leaves.

leaf of Hosta ‘First Frost’

‘First Frost’ in my rock garden

I will close with the 2010 Hosta of the Year ‘First Frost’.  When it comes out in the spring, the combination of the very blue leaves with the decidedly yellow and very wide margins is unusual and elegant.  The leaves have thick substance and turn dark green with a cream edge in summer.  ‘First Frost’ is also a “smaller” large hosta and easy to use in the landscape.  It is a sport of the wonderful ‘Halycon’.  At maturity, it reaches 14″ high by 3′ wide with 7″ leaves.


Nursery Happenings:  Our final open house sale of the spring will be a two-day event on Friday, June 1, from 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturday, June 2, from 10 am to 2 pm.  Customers on my email list should have received an email with details.  We are getting more woody plants so if you missed the deadline send me an email with your order.  If you are interested in receiving miniature hostas mail order, click here.

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69 Responses to “Large Hostas Get the Spotlight”

  1. Looks like I’ll have to move my Liberty!! how many years does it
    take for them to reach mature size? Great post!

    • Robin, The garden that the ‘Liberty’ was in seemed to have steroids in the soil. My hostas never get that large so I wouldn’t expect it to get that big in most other gardens. Large hostas sometimes take up to three years to reach their full size and colors. Carolyn

  2. Great post. It may not be new,but I really like the idea of Hosta as a specimen shrub. Love the church gate.

  3. Jim Davis Says:

    Some nursery claimed that Hosta “Empress Wu” is the biggest one in the trade, so I bought one. Right now it’s still small, but I’ll keep an eye on it.

  4. paulinemulligan Says:

    Super post about my favourite large hostas! I find the slugs and snails leave the large thick leaves alone and allow my hostas to look beautiful ! Very taken with Liberty, must find one, have a fairly new Sagae, will just have to wait for it to grow to full potential. Lovely selection.

    • Pauline, I usually don’t have much problem with slugs (we don’t have snails) but since our climate has changed to the tropics with daily downpours between steamy sun, the slugs are in heaven. I like hostas with leaves with good substance anyway, but I really appreciate their slug resistance right now. Carolyn

  5. hillsmom Says:

    These are really spectacular as is your whole garden. However, our problem is deer. Don’t they really, really love hostas? Can you recommend more deer-resistant plantings for shade? Great pix as usual which sets me to dreaming…

    • HM, Deer love hostas, and I wouldn’t recommend planting them in browsed areas unless you are going to spray. Believe it or not deer really don’t like most shade plants, it is just that they love some very popular types like hostas and phlox. Some deer resistant types are hellebores, pulmonarias, epimediums, lamium, ferns, many native plants, etc. Readers, please do not comment back that deer have eaten your plants on my list because deer will eat anything where the pressure is intense or their trails pass through. Deer problems require thoughtful management by choosing the right plants, proper placement, judicous spraying, altering deer patterns, etc. It is not just a case of “I planted (such and such)deer resistant plant and they ate it anyway.” Carolyn

      • hillsmom Says:

        Thanks for some good ideas, and taking the time to reply. I’ve had good luck with ferns, and they haven’t been munching on the things right next to the house. I’ve had hellebores from you for 2 years, now.

      • I hope you didn’t mind me using your comment as a chance to reply to everyone. Deer are difficult. Carolyn

    • Bob Wolkins Says:

      try using “Bobbex”. Since I started using it, the deer do not bother my hostas. You order it on line. We live in a very very dense deer population.

  6. Love all the pics, I too bought 2 wu’s this yr, I read that LOTS of water is the key! barb

  7. Seriously, how can you do this to me? I am now suffering the pangs of a severe bout of hosta envy… Thank God I’m nowhere near your nursery or you’d bankrupt me in a jiffy!

    They all look wonderful, though of course none are as beautiful as the plain-leafed, un-named hosta I have which comes from my mother’s garden. (Okay, as far as hostas go, mine is a pretty dull one, but it’s family, and that matters more than looks. And it does feel like I’m cheating on my family hosta when I look at my supermarket-bought white-edged hosta…)

  8. Cynthia Kardon Says:

    Carolyn I love your posts. I learn so much about the subtle, but substantial differences between plants in the same family. Wonderfully informative.

  9. nwphillygardner Says:

    Another great thing about large hosta, they’re really useful for floral bouquets. Gather some around the perimeter of some showy flowers like peonies or large zinnias. Most often, the clumps have so many leaves that clipping a few does no harm. Also, a clear glass vase with just a few large leaves of hosta, especially the puckered, textured varieties are – by themselves – a worthy indoor arrangement that lasts for 2 to 3 weeks.

    • Eric, you are so right. I should have mentioned that—they are gorgeous in arrangements. Carolyn

      • Hi Carolyn!
        I LOVE hostas too and have huge specimens in my gardens. Re floral arrangements, I use the HOSTA leaves INSIDE my clear vases-they stick to the insides of the vase and hide the flower stems and create the most beautiful underwater lining to any arrangement. The hellebores I have bought from you are magnificent! thanks for introducing them to me! Your neighbor Alida

      • Alida, What a great idea. I really have to be more creative with hostas in flower arrangements. Thanks for commenting. Carolyn

  10. Hi Carolyn… I have most of these and count them all among my favorites, especially Sagae for its ‘landscaping’ possibilities. My Blue Angels are somewhat forlorn as I removed their shade last fall and the tree’s roots are too entwined with Blue Angel for digging and moving the hosta… so its lots of water until other trees in the area fill in on the shade requirements… love your compilation of great large hostas! Larry

  11. Thank you for the info on big hostas! I like my hostas big, personally (there are already so many little fiddly things for shade…), and found some new ones to try here. Great Expectations is my favorite, also Blue Angel.

  12. Up here so many people use Hosta as a ‘shrub’, it is funny you mentioned this. Also, many are overwhelmed at how big some varieties get if they have small gardens such as myself. Say hi to Micheal for me too.

    • Donna, Yes, I wanted to let people know how large some of these get and how useful they are. It is always a good idea to read the tag for height and width when buying a hosta. Miniatures are great for smaller garden (and big ones too). Carolyn

  13. I loved seeing your hostas, and learning about them. I especially like Sagae, although I like the name Variegata better. And I love the name Fried Green Tomatoes! Cute that it is a sport of Guacamole!

  14. Liberty is quite beautiful. One I haven’t heard of before. Isn’t it always the case with hostas that they send hosta fans on wild goose chases such as your Sagae? Too funny. Glad you found it.

    • Tina, There are always so many new ones coming out that it can get hard to find the really good older cultivars. I am a little disconcerted that the AHGA picked ‘Rainforest Sunrise’ as the 2013 hosta. It is new, and I have never seen it for sale or in anyone’s garden. Not what I consider a HOY. Carolyn

  15. cathywieder Says:

    Carolyn, the variety you’ve shown is so lovely! I have about a dozen different ones, but the only one I think we have in common is Blue Angel, which in retrospect, acts as a “shrub” in each of the places we have it here as well. (I have four of them.) While I lam intrigued by the lightening bolt effect, my favorite is First Frost. The markings on those leaves are so striking!

  16. Hi, what a lovely post. It really makes me want to go out and buy every hosta I find! I’m also really glad that I saw this post because we recently replaced a gate similar to the one you have above and it’s nice to it in use for climbers, which is what we’re planning.

    • Every year I say that I am not going to buy any more full-sized hostas (I allow myself the minis) and every year I fail. This time I feel in love with a deep blue-leaved ‘Topaz’, and red-stemmed ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Designer Genes’. Before the gate, there was just a big white wall. Even without the plants it makes the whole area more interesting. Carolyn

  17. What’s your experience with “Sum and Substance”?

    • Greg, I love ‘Sum and Substance’—it is the hosta of the year for 2004. I have it in my woodland garden in full shade, and it is so big that I think it scares customers off so they don’t buy it. It is the biggest hosta I have for width and leaf size. Really makes an impression. Carolyn

  18. Carolyn you have picked many of my favs…I lost track of what I have and I have many…but I adore Liberty and First Frost.

    • Donna, It is hard to keep track of hostas especially since I plant a bunch of new ones each year. I have them written in a book, but I really need to get the info onto the computer. I may have 125 cultivars but real collections start at 300 and above. Carolyn

  19. I knew there were a lot, but I didn’t realize there are 8,000 cultivars of Hosta! I think I have five or six. It’s possible my large blue-green leafed one is “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Love that one!

  20. deborahelliott Says:

    This southern girl has got to love Fried Green Tomatoes! And Great Expectations has been one of my favorites since I first saw it. I really love the large hostas. I would add Sum and Substance to the list!

  21. MANY of my favorites included here. I finally have room for some of the Big Boys and just love them. Liberty looks stunning.

  22. Carolyn, I need the benefit of your wisdom.I am growing a collection of large-leaved plants along my front wall, which is very shady in summer, and I htought about including large Hostas. Hardly anyone grows them here because it’s hot and dry in summer. Are any of these large ones really drought tolerant – not just surviving but looking good? I water once a week in the hottest weather, but the soil does dry out in between quite a bit.

    • Lyn, I really don’t feel qualified to give advice on hostas in Australia. However, I will say that in the mid-Atlantic US, we have droughts almost every summer when the temperature is between 90 and 100 degrees and it doesn’t rain for two months. The thing is after that it rains consistently and in the spring we get a lot of rain. If I was only going to pick one for toughness though it would have to be ‘Blue Angel’. It always looks great in the fall and grows anywhere. If you can get your hands on it I would just try it and see. Carolyn

      • Thanks, Carolyn! It sounds like Hostas are tougher than I thought. I’ll definitely try for Blue Angel first.

    • If you live in the eastern states (south of Sydney) or cooler inland areas you should be ok but I dig a lot of mushroom compost into my soils to hold on to moisture over the drier times. If it gets dry between watering, your Hostas won’t thrive, no matter the variety! I grow a lot in pots and quite a few in the ground but only where the soil is good.Cheers Sid

  23. Hi Carolyn, I think I like your standard size Hostas even more than your dwarf ones. Liberty is just amazing. Fabulous pictures and I am certainly enjoying the larger text on your blog

  24. Question—not about hostas tho—i have been remembering beautiful delicate shrubs that were in my parent’s garden landscape-(50 yrs ago)in part shade–i finally found it on a walk today and need help identifying it-the leaf is exactly like a rhododendron but smaller(dwarf?) and the flowers are clusters of delicate bell/bowl shapes(-not petals_)-they are white with tiny pink dots inside creating a circle. i brought a stem home with me–wld love to find it but know the species is very old and was used a lot way back when…..saw a few in very mature plantings in haverford today—any ideas?

  25. I am so glad I can enjoy hostas through your blog. They don’t like it here, and I am amazed that you can grow them as well as you do.

  26. Thanks for the wonderful photos. I recently looked at hostas on a nursery website and it was hard to judge based on the photos what the plant might look like. Your photos are exceptional and show now just the leaf but the general size.

  27. wifemothergardener Says:

    I really like H ‘Sagae’… is that the one planted with the yellow tulips are Chanticleer? And I totally agree about ‘Blue Angel’! It deserves some respect.

    It is fun looking through your photos and remembering walking around your garden just a month ago! I will work on getting your garden tour post out soon – promise 🙂

  28. The large hostas were my first hosta love and still the ones I love best. I’m especially partial to the vase-shaped ones and grow several — which makes it all the more surprising that I’ve never heard of ‘Sagae’. I’m going to have to look that one up. There’s always space for one more large hosta in the garden 🙂

  29. […] Large Hostas Get the Spotlight ( […]

  30. Beautiful Hostas! I was looking forward to my third year with my group of Hostas but this winter I’ve already lost six of them; eaten from the ground up! I suspect voles or mice… So frustrating though! I’ve heard if you bury your Hostas with hardware cloth around their roots it should help. I plan on ordering more Hostas this year, the garden just wouldn’t be the same without them!

  31. I love Hostas and I have the perfect shade garden area. My problem is that the snails completely devour them, and I have small dogs so I can’t use snail bait. Any suggestions for me? Thank you.

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