Colours in shade

Kiran Narain on plants that grow well even in the absence of enough sunlight

VERY few plants can be grown in complete or partial shade making barren spots an eyesore. Hosta or Funkia, a hardy herbaceous flowering plant with large (up to 12 to 18 inches) deep green, variegated white and yellow leaves in different textures and markings, helps to cover up the barren areas in a garden.

Originally found in Japan and China, hostas or plantain lily (fam liliaceae) are prized for their foliage which lasts from spring to late autumn in colder climates and are evergreen in parts of North India. Hybridisation has created more than 200 varieties giving enormous choice according to the size and colours of foliage as well as spikes of tubular fragrant flowers in mauve, blue and white. The most common variety grown in India is H. grandiflora or plantaginea.

Requiring almost no maintenance, hostas provide striking accents of lush foliage and flourish in partial shade but some varieties tolerate full sun to deep shade. They are excellent for growing in light dappled shade massed in a bed, used as a ground cover or planted in a row as an informal edge. They make superb woodland, shrubbery and border plants and can be grown in pots also.

Moist, well-drained soil enriched with leaf mould or peat moss is best but they will grow in a range of soils. For growing in pots a compost of two parts loam, one part well-decayed organic manure and sand with leaf mould will be required.

Plant in spring or autumn. It may take time to establish but once settled, it will not require much care. Due to dense foliage, weeds do not come up and these moisture loving perennials can be left undisturbed with excellent results for even 20 years only being given annual top dressing of decayed organic manure during the growing season. These should not be disturbed unless necessary.

Hostas can stand some dampness but must be watched out for slugs and snails, which can damage the lovely foliage. Even though they will brighten up a gardenís shady corner for many years with their foliage, they will flower only where they get some sun in the day. The flowers come up through summer in colder climates and during monsoons and October-November in the plains of North India.