Book review: The book of little hostas.

The Book of Little Hostas:  200 Small, Very Small, and Mini Varieties by Kathy Guest Shadrack and Michael Shadrack (Timber Press, Inc, Portland, 2010)

After several weeks of absolutely BALMY winter weather here in Calgary (since when is it plus 13 degrees Celsius in January?), we were hit with a blast of the white stuff and falling temperatures yesterday.  In an instant, I switched back into hibernation mode (well, sans the hot chocolate and Bailey’s – alas, my cupboards are currently bereft of such essentials, and it was far too windy and chilly to walk to the store to restock).  Fortunately, I’ve got quite the stack of gardening books on my kitchen table, enough to fortify my imagination for a few wintery days.

The Book of Little Hostas is pure eye candy for me.  I’m not sure how I would fit these petite perennials in my flowerbeds as they are currently designed, but I have been thinking of undertaking a serious overhaul over the next few years and maybe I can work in some of these beauties as edging.  As the authors state, these are not plants to just plop in a bed willy-nilly – siting them is everything.  Due to their size, they can easily be overwhelmed by larger plants; as well, with the massive variety of foliage colour, pattern, and shape, you really want to show little hostas off in their own raised bed or a rockery, perhaps, or in containers.

Little hostas have been hybridized primarily with the serious plant collector in mind – since 1996, with the introduction of Hosta ‘Pandora’s Box’ (with beautiful variegated white and blue-green leaves), the whole little hosta trend has mushroomed so much that the American Hosta Society had to create categories to distinguish the miniature from the just “small.”  To determine if a hosta is small, very small, or miniature, the size of the leaf blade area is measured:  plants with a leaf blade area smaller than approximately 11 cm² is considered miniature, while a small hosta has a leaf blade area between roughly 25 cm² and 60 cm².  (Notice the categories don’t make mention of the overall height or spread of the plant, but don’t worry, these are definitely space-saving compared to full-size hostas.  I believe in most circles, “miniature” hostas are less than 15 cm in height, and “small” plants are between 15 and 25 cm tall). ¹

Authors Michael Shadrack and Kathy Guest Shadrack carefully outline all of the maintenance and care needs of little hostas, including specific cautions regarding soil and amendments:  little hostas, it seems, are far more choosy when it comes to soil type than their bigger siblings.  Addressing the collectible nature of these plants, there’s even a section in the book about mapping and labelling cultivars, and a list of things to consider if you plan to journal as you grow your collection.

But, it’s all about the photographs, really, and it’s easy to spend A LOT of time ooh-ing and aah-ing over the amazing diversity of little hosta cultivars.  I’ve always has a soft spot for variegated hostas, so I was immediately drawn to ‘Calypso’ and ‘Hi Ho Silver’ and the gorgeously streaked ‘Fireworks.’  And what about ‘Lakeside Zing Zang’, which has white to cream-coloured leaves splattered with green flecks and blotches?   Extremely cool.  Other (non-variegated) favourites include ‘Cheatin Heart’, which sports heart-shaped leaves (of course) in gold.  Or, there is ‘Plug Nickel,’ with shiny bright green oval foliage and delicate lilac-coloured flowers.  If you want just-plain-weird, look no further than ‘Hacksaw’, with light green, narrow, extremely serrated leaf blades.  It doesn’t resemble any other hosta I’ve ever seen, but the texture and colour of the foliage really draws the eye.

(And you have to admit, the cultivar names are pretty creative:  ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’, ‘Little Stiffy’ (???), or ‘Holy Mouse Ears’, anyone?).

While I’m uncertain that ALL of these cultivars would perform in challenging zone 3a, it’s just so wonderful to go through a book like this and consider the possibilities….

¹I got this info from Durable Gardening.  (I switched the measurements to metric, though).   You can check out a photo of another crazily-named hosta – ‘Wheee!’ PPAF – on the same page.   It’s a full-sized hosta cultivar, but it was introduced just last year and it’s a hot selection right now.


  1. I feel like a right moron of a hosta collector – a Shadrack book I didn’t know about. We will now observe a moment of silence for all the hostas I had to leave behind when I moved. I do have some nice new beds to fill with the 30 or so I’m picking up in the spring.

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