Hosta on Trial

by Bev Wagar

Does Hosta get the justice she deserves? You be the judge.
First in my “Hort Court” series.
These stories were originally printed in The Point (the community newspaper of the Crown Point neighbourhood in East Hamilton, Ontario) in my regular gardening column “Lovin’ Your Garden”.

“Order! Order! Next up is case # 114 in the Horticultural Court of Shade Plants.” The judge rattled her drumstick allium, and the garden quieted. “The defendant, Plantain Lily, also known as Hosta, is accused of multiple garden crimes including: ubiquity, monotony, and ecological idleness. Hosta, how do you plead?”

“Innocent, your honour” Hosta snarled. “I’ve been framed! Those darned environmentalists are out to get me!”

The garden buzzed with anticipation. Not since the great goutweed massacre of 2011 had a high-profile ornamental faced such scrutiny. These were serious allegations, and Hosta was visibly nervous. His shaking leaves had flung a few slugs into the courtyard and Robin Redbosom, court stenographer, hopped over to gobble them up.

Presiding judge, M. (Mama) Nature, smiled. “Continue, prosecutor” she said.

“Hosta, you are accused of deliberately foisting yourself on busy and inexperienced gardeners, using their naivety to dominate shade gardens and suppress other plants, especially natives. You and your gang of back-room plant breeders have not only created thousands of Hosta varieties but your marketing machine has stoked the fires of gluttony with an endless stream of patented, expensive, and look-alike introductions.”

“It’s not my fault if people are greedy and gullible,” Hosta replied. “I only go where I’m planted. My stolons don’t creep around like some of the thugs around here.” He glared at Vinca and Mint who were holding hands and giggling in the front row, oblivious to the insult.

“But you deliberately mislead people. You are not low maintenance. You need trimming, dividing. You harbour those fugitive slugs. You’re fussy about water and soil, complaining when it’s too hot, too sunny, too dry. You’re all hype.”

Hosta bristled. “I resent that! I am a law-abiding herbaceous perennial. If people see me as the patron saint of shady backyards, able to overcome neglect, drought, dog pee, tree roots and SUV tracks, well, I’ve done nothing to encourage that.”

The prosecutor changed tactics. “Tell me, Hosta, which species of pollinator did you evolve with? I mean, you are from Japan, China and east Asia, aren’t you? Are you a larval host for any of the insects around here?. Do you even know what “biodiversity” means? What good are you? You don’t belong in this ecosystem.”

“It’s true that I’m new to these parts, been around since 1800 or so. And it’s true that I don’t support any local insects. But the deer and the slugs love me! So far as pollination goes, I am self-fertile, same as a tomato,” Hosta replied. “I don’t need insects to pollinate my flowers. And most of my cultivars are sterile, anyways”.

“You seem proud of this abherration.”

“I don’t tell the breeders what to do,” Hosta snapped. “And so what? The bees love my flowers.”

The prosecutor moved in close, hovering over Hosta’s waxy leaves, making no effort to hide the disdain.

“Nobody grows you for your flowers. You hardly bloom any more and when you do the scent is gone. You’re a one-trick pony. Face it, Hosta. You’re boring. All you’ve got is leaves. You’re nothing but foliage. Always smooth, always boring. A whole lot of you, plunked in there surrounded by that horrible red mulch, well you’re as interesting as a dot on a polka-dotted picnic blanket!”

The force of this outburst roused the audience. The bees landed, the butterflies pulled up their wings. Even the worms came to the surface to see the drama unfolding.

“Enough!” cried Hosta. His leaves drooped, the dew long gone. In an anguished voice he whispered “Don’t you think I know this? I hate the tyrant I’ve become. I’d love to play with other plants. I’d happily make room for other shade lovers, especially the natives who used to grow here. I’d change if I could, but the humans keep planting me. Passing me around like a dirty secret. I used to be a Japanese woodland lily but now I’m nothing but a space filler. A convenience. The microwave of the plant world. They put me next to sidewalks! House foundations!” Something like a sob escaped his central rosette.

The prosecutor sat down, rested her case.

Everyone looked to Mama Nature to make a pronouncement. Was Hosta guilty or not guilty?

But Mama Nature’s spot was empty. She’d quietly left the courtyard for the aster patch to officiate the wedding of two Fritillary butterflies. She’d left a note, in her wide, loopy script, on a piece of birch bark.

“Garden On!” was all it said.

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