Publication: Patriot-News, The (Harrisburg, PA)     Author(s): George Weigel       Date: August 11, 2011       Page: B01      Section: Life     Edition: Final

Reprinted by permission of the author

Hosta fanciers growing business

It’s hard to tell if the Hosta Hideaway is a big shade garden that happens to sell hostas or a hosta nursery disguised as a garden. Either way, this wooded two-acre nook near York Springs in the northern Adams County countryside is one of the most peaceful places you’ll ever buy anything. Hostas by the hundreds blanket this shady setting, separated by wood-chip paths that snake through garden beds. Some hostas are planted in the ground as display specimens, meant to show what they’ll look like in real garden life. Others are in retail pots ranging from quarts for $6 to mammoths in 3-gallon pots for $49. Most are priced in the $12 to $15 range.

‘A hobby gone amok’ This novel business is the work of Donna and Dr. Charles Seitz, a husband and-wife team who opened it four years ago after moving from Hanover to be closer to Charles’ job as professor and director of social work at Messiah College. Donna previously ran a piano studio in Hanover. Neither had experience with operating a nursery. They were, however, serious hosta fanciers.

“We had about 100 different hostas in our tiny backyard in Hanover,” Donna says. “This is a hobby gone amok.” The couple took their hostas with them when they moved (“It was written into the contract,” Donna says), and the 100 varieties quickly grew into 200. That number became 300 and now 400. When the Seitzes took a crack at selling hostas, they started by offering 40 of their favorites. Word spread, and despite a not-so-great economy, this specialty business is booming to the point that it’s now offering more than 200 varieties. “We’re hoping to have 300 for sale next year,” Charles says.

Didn’t realize there were that many variations? Actually, the world has some 8, 000 named varieties of hosta. “They all have their little nuances,” Donna says. Most people know hostas as white-edged, leafy plants that line driveways. Walk behind the Seitzes’ house to the Hosta Hideaway, and you quickly realize this is a much more diverse plant family. They come in leaf shades of green, gold, blue and an endless combination of variegated blends. Some, such as Blue Mouse Ears, grow only 6 inches tall. Others, such as Sum and Substance and Blue Mammoth, approach 4 feet tall and wide with leaves as big as rhubarb. And then there are nuances. Drinking Gourd has cupped blue leaves that capture water in rain; Red October has red stems; Praying Hands has upright, folded green leaves as if the plant is praying that deer don’t find it, and Guacamole has white flowers that smell like lilies.

The Seitzes are on a first name basis with all of these and seemingly can discern a Bressingham Blue from a Blue Angel at 20 paces. That’s apparently a big part of their success. It’s not unusual for one or the other to spend an hour with a customer, helping to select just the right hosta. “We’re trying to appeal to all gardeners,” Donna says. “Some people are just starting out or don’t want to spend a lot of money. Others want something mature.” Surprisingly, not many are hard-core collectors.

“Most people have only seen two or three kinds of hostas,” Charles says. “They usually step back here and say, ‘Wow! I didn’t expect this.’ “That’s where in-ground hostas come into play. “Most of the time when you go into a nursery, you don’t know how a plant’s going to end up,” Charles says. “You don’t know how big it’s going to get or how they’re going to look in the garden. This lets people see that and also gives them ideas on how to use hostas.” One Hosta Hideaway garden is a collection of mini hostas, set among a little village of dollhouse size buildings. Another area shows compact green hostas lined up as a wall edging. Other areas show hostas paired with other shade plants such as coralbells, ferns and ligularia. The couple’s back patio even has assorted pots filled with hostas. Charles says hostas overwinter well in pots. You don’t have to remove them and plant them in the ground. Donna says hostas also make great ground cover and that many of them have fragrant July and August flowers.

“I just like their tropical feel and that lush green look that they give,” she says. “We had shade in our [Hanover] backyard, and I saw how well hostas did. They’re extremely durable and keep coming back year after year after year.” They plan to add a waterfall and to clear out more of their wooded backyard to make way for gardens and hosta pots. After all, 8, 000 varieties take up a lot of space.

Contact George Weigel, garden columnist for The Patriot-News, at [email protected]. Copyright, 2011, The Patriot-News Co. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission