Hosta ‘Halcyon’ — Elegance in Blue

Hosta ‘Halcyon’ 18 July 2020 — Scans — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Saturday, July 18, 2020

In the late 60s while working at the famous English nursery of Hilliers of Winchester, architect-trained, Southampton-born , Eric Smith became its chief propagator. He worked in the walled garden for four years. He came up with new hellebores, bergenias, brunneras, camassia crocosmia, kniphofi and rheums but one cross made him famous. Most hostas flower in June. One in particular Hosta sieboldiana and Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ are big and blue with thick leaves. Hosta tardiflora flowers in September and has narrow, shiny green leaves. Somehow one of his sieboldianas re-flowered in September so Smith used its pollen to fertilize the Tardiflora’s pod. From this cross arose a whole series of mostly blue hostas called called Tardiana (Tardiflora/sieboldiana combined) grex.

My interest in hostas began in 1986 when we moved from a small house in Burnaby BC to a large corner garden house in Kerrisdale, a lovely Vancouver neighbourhood. There was a lot of shade. That is how I discovered hostas as all the reading material of the time mentioned the hosta as being shade loving.

When I joined the American Hosta Society and became a card-carrying member I went to the yearly conventions. I quickly learned from Atlanta resident, former designer of NASA launching pads, W. George Schmid that there was no such thing as a shade loving plant. He called them shade tolerant. Schmid wrote The Genus Hosta which is the the taxonomic bible of the hosta. He even learned Japanese so that he could study the plant in the wild in Japan.

Halcyon — The Essence of Blueness
A Halcyon June in my Garden

By the time we left our Kerrisdale house four years ago to move to our little garden in Kitsilano (and are formerly populated by hippies) I had amassed 600 hosta specimens. The large, rare ones I donated to the Botanical Garden of the University of British Columbia. Many others I took in a large rented van with our Gallica roses to our eldest daughter’s almost one acre property in Lillooet, British Columbia. It is a desert canyon in which the Fraser River flows through. In the summer temperatures can surpass 40 Celsius and in the winter it can be minus 30.The Gallicas and my former hostas are doing just fine.

Hosta tardiflora 4 October 2019

When I had to pick the hostas for our present garden I sort of became a botanical Noah. I picked three hosta convention hostas, Potomac Pride, Northwest Textures and Party Favor. The rest of the hostas that compete with my Rosemary’s perennials and our 50 old and English roses are personal picks.

I have a US’imported” (when “importing” was something that many gardeners did and never had to face the consequences they face now, Hosta ‘June’ and an authentic Hosta ‘Halcyon’ These two if grown from seed or anything not division become poor copies of the elegant originals.

In time I have come to learn that the juvenile version have narrow (lanceolate) leaves that curve inwards. As the plants mature they perhaps forget the Hosta tardiflora of their parentage and begin to adopt the rounder leaves of Hosta sieboldiana.

Anybody who has grown hostas for a while knows that there is one important protocol to follow when admiring any blue hosta. You do not want to touch the blue waxy coating called bloom. The part you touch will revert to green and it will not come back until the next season. The same happens if you use powerful hose sprays or spray them with liquid fertilizer. If you happen to plant your blue hostas under a cherry tree stuff will fall on the leaves and you might have to gingerly remove the debris.

Since most gardeners plant their hostas in the shade as a photographer I can inform you that there is a lot more UV light in the shade and particularly on overcast days. Blue hostas will seem bluer and when photographed with either film or digital cameras they will seem bluer. Why? Read here.

I find it amazing that with all the usual hoopla about variegated hostas the Hosta ‘Halcyon’ for me is the ultimate elegant one. Many hosta enthusiasts downplay the beauty of hosta flowers. Halcyon and the other member’s of it Tardiana group and the sportJune all have bold flowers that are beautiful before they even open.

Originally published at




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Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

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