Gardens

hostas in Maine

Endless Hosta-bilities

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DOUGLAS MERRIAM

A retired farmer uses variations in leaf form and color to compose harmonious gardens on a seventh-generation family homestead.

hostas in Maine

Endless Hosta-bilities

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DOUGLAS MERRIAM

A retired farmer uses variations in leaf form and color to compose harmonious gardens on a seventh-generation family homestead.

hostas in Maine

Endless Hosta-bilities

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DOUGLAS MERRIAM

A retired farmer uses variations in leaf form and color to compose harmonious gardens on a seventh-generation family homestead.

Hostas are Peter Young’s favorite plants, a sentiment people who believe beautiful gardens require showy blooms may not understand. After all, most hosta flowers, atop their leggy stalks, are small and anemic in color. And the way many homeowners tend to plant them? It’s boring: lined up along walkways, all of a kind, like uniformed soldiers in file.

But on Young’s farm in Buckfield, hostas swirl around his house, stipple the length of a stone wall, and blanket the feet of purple maples and box elders. They flourish in both shade and sun. Some of the flowers are quite nice, and their fragrance even nicer, but the foliage is the real show: rippled cyan hearts, chartreuse spikes, lime ovals trimmed in cream, deep-green paddles. Some mounds are ankle high and the diameter of a dinner plate. Others reach to Young’s waist and have a 5-foot spread. “I have between 500 and 600 varieties,” Young says.

Peter Young mixes different kinds of hostas to create interest in the gardens on his Buckfield farm. Blue, green, and variegated hostas, for example, bring out the gold and cream accents of  other varieties.

Peter Young mixes different kinds of hostas to create interest in the gardens on his Buckfield farm. Blue, green, and variegated hostas, for example, bring out the gold and cream accents of  other varieties.

The 76-year-old retired dairy farmer lives in the house he grew up in. It was built in 1782 by his great-great-great-great-grandfather, Joshua Young; the 250 rolling acres it sits on were given to Joshua as payment for his service during the Revolutionary War. Peter’s grandmother and mother both kept gardens — the 200 or so varieties of irises his mother planted when he was a boy still bloom in spring — but he’s expanded far beyond their efforts.

“When you’re a farmer, you don’t have much spare time,” Young says, “so I planted trees and shrubs — the bones of a garden — thinking that later I’d put in flower beds around them. Now, my brain gets ahead of me when it comes to acquiring plants. It’s very easy in the depths of winter to go through a catalog. Then, the plants arrive, and you end up creating another garden for them because you don’t have room.”

Buckfield Maine farm

Among the many hosta varieties, Young grows mukdenia, heucheras, ginger, ferns, and hepatica, creating a balanced composition of textures and accents. The hostas are meticulously labeled, some with playful names like Curly Fries (ruffled, narrow, chartreuse leaves), Blue Angel (deep-green-blue leaves), and Goodness Gracious (large, heart-shaped green leaves with yellow margins).

Young is active in the Maine Hosta Society, the members of which field-trip to gardens and specialty nurseries and are known to spend upwards of $50 for a single plant at the organization’s annual auction. “Most everybody involved in the Hosta Society . . . ,” Young says, then pauses, “. . . they’re nuts!” He laughs. “Let’s just say, we’re most enthusiastic about this plant.”


2 Comments

  1. Bing Taylor

    Hostas are beautiful and Peter’s especially so but are there no slugs in Maine? I now have to put my hostas in pots and put the pots in basins of water to keep the slugs at bay. How do you keep them slug free?

    • Virginia M. Wright

      Hi Bing,
      Thanks for your question. Peter Young says, “I had been using a product called Bug-Geta when its active ingredient was metaldehyde. It was extremely effective and when used for three years in succession the slug population would be near zero. I am as reluctant as anyone to use chemicals but enough was enough. They have been forced to change the formulation so unless one has a pesticide license, metaldehyde is not available. It is too early to know how well the new product works. Other products contain iron phosphate that is less harmful but not as effective. A used beer container tucked under a plant will take care quite a few of the miserable things.”

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