It's a Hosta Takeover!

On a wooded Orono plot, a “hosta-holic” nurtures her habit.

archway at the beginning of Lenore Tipping and Tom Spitz’s Orono hosta garden

From the July 2023 issue of Down East magazine

Just two blocks from the University of Maine campus and all of its traffic, Lenore Tipping and Tom Spitz’s Orono home is as tranquil as a country retreat. Their three-quarter-acre property sits on the Stillwater River’s west bank, and they’ve taken landscaping cues from the waterway’s placid nature. Their beds of velvety hostas and meadow of lush ferns are more apt to elicit ahhs than wows.

“I love hostas because there are so many varieties,” Tipping says. Her 350-plus plants represent nearly as many hybrids, from the eight-foot-wide Humpback Whale, with its blue-green, heart-shaped leaves, to the petite Curly Fries, whose squiggly, chartreuse leaves are as narrow as blades of grass.

For most of their 28 years in Orono, Tipping, the plantsman of the pair, and Spitz, the builder of arbors and boardwalks, focused on creating gardens close to their house, including a perennial bed bright with coneflowers, peonies, and poppies and a rock garden softened by coral bells. Though most of the property is in dappled shade, they steered clear of hostas because deer regularly snacked on the four that Tipping brought with her when the couple relocated from Illinois.

ABOVE 1) Lenore Tipping and Tom Spitz with their meticulously labeled hostas. 2) Hakone grass spills over stones that edge Tipping and Spitz’s patio, built with bricks from the dismantled chimney of a Bangor building, where Tipping once had an office. 3) A boardwalk zigzags through naturally growing ferns. 4) Even containers hold the couple’s favorite plant.

But in 2018, eager to expand on their improvements, they began experimenting with hostas, spraying them liberally with deer repellent. It worked, mostly — the deer still munched randomly, but not enough to thwart Tipping and Spitz’s progress as they worked their way under the canopy of white pines toward the riverfront. Today, the yard hosts dozens of hosta beds interlaced with pine-needle-carpeted paths. These gardens give way to a swath of naturally growing ferns in an area that floods every spring. “It was all ferns, weeds, and brambles when we moved in,” Tipping says. “Over the years, I pulled out everything that wasn’t a fern.” She designed, and Spitz built, the boardwalk that zigzags over the ferns to a riverside screenhouse, where they enjoy summer suppers while watching bald eagles, beavers, ducks, and little blue herons.

ABOVE Elsewhere, foxgloves and rhododendrons add pink and purple accents to gardens dominated by hostas and ferns.

A meticulous gardener, Tipping has labeled each of her hosta varieties, which is mainly helpful to visitors. (She can name the plants without glancing at the tags.) She designs new beds on graph paper, using colored pencils to draw plants to scale. “I spend a lot of time with the design so that the plants flow together nicely. There are so many variegated and different-colored hostas that it really doesn’t look right if you don’t take some time to balance colors, textures, and sizes.” Tipping is a regular at the American Hosta Society annual convention, where attendees call themselves “hosta-holics,” a sobriquet she cheerfully accepts. “I’m hooked,” she says.