Gardeners who have to deal with heavy soil, partial-to-full shade and aggressive tree roots know the value of hostas. They easily thrive under these difficult conditions to form a lush, rippling, green carpet, punctuated in midsummer by more or less attractive flowering spears. In my area of the world, I would say with confidence that hostas, daylilies and rudbeckias are among our top five go-to plants.

Read the last Garden Rant on Tomatoland.

And I imagine most gardeners know how many hostas are available. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. The temptation is to buy one of each—green with white stripes, blue with yellow blotches, thick-leaved, thin-leaved, scented or non—and mix them all together. This looks pretty good with daylilies, but with most hostas, it’s just a big hot mess (I know because I’ve tried it). The plants are different heights with different leaf-spans, and it just doesn’t work.

This is where the new small hostas come in. Small, very small and miniature varieties of hostas are easily collectable, and collectability is important for the obsessive gardener. Breeders have been creating small hostas since the ’70s, but according to Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack, authors of The Book of Little Hostas (Timber, 2010), interest became strong in 1996, with the introduction of “Pandora’s Box,” a white variety with a feathered blue-green margin. Now, dozens of tiny hostas are introduced every year.

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hosta turf And what fun they are. Little hostas are perfect to group together in containers, or for a small alpine bed. Imagine that—a rock garden in the shade! They look great all mixed up, as long as they are well spaced, perhaps interplanted with some interesting ground covers and mulches. Another affinity is with hypertufa containers—bowls and troughs you can create yourself out of peat, cement and perlite. The Shadracks own a creekside property south of Buffalo that has several acres of perennial gardens, including one devoted to small hostas. It also has, closer to the house, some groupings of hypertufa containers filled with shade plants—ferns and begonias as well as hostas.

The Book of Little Hostas includes a listing of 200 plants, as well as hosta rock information on how to choose, grow, place and get them through the winter. It’s useful and beautifully illustrated, but the book is only part of the story. Kathy and Michael Shadrack are among America’s most amusing and informative gardening personalities.  Mike, a former London Bobby and longtime hosta expert, met Kathy on a visit to Western New York and found that in order for the relationship to work, he’d have to move to the United States. So he did, and the two united their plant obsessions to continue writing and create one of the area’s most visited private gardens. The Shadracks frequently lecture, both separately and apart. Catch them if you can—find out how at smugcreekgardens.com.

Elizabeth Licata has been working as a professional journalist for over 20 years and is one of four bloggers at Garden Rant now contributing regularly to Kirkus. Her writing on the arts has been published in the Village Voice, the Buffalo News, Art in America, Art & Antiques and many other publications. Her writing on gardening has been published in Horticulture magazine and her blogs, the award-winning Garden Rant and her own blog Gardening While Intoxicated. Licata is the author of the book Garden Walk Buffalo and is the editor-in-chief of Buffalo Spree, Buffalo’s city/regional glossy.