In just about every garden, you'll find hostas tucked into shady corners. Their luscious leaves and no-fuss nature have made them the No. 1 perennial plant in U.S. gardens.
Mike Shadrack fell in love with hostas more than 15 years ago, and his devotion to this one plant lead him to illustrate a recently published book on them.
"I saw a TV program with hostas at the edge of a pond," said Shadrack, in a clipped British accent. "I bought some hostas to plant at the edge of my pond and there was no going back. They were brilliant from Day 1 so I looked for more."
That was in 1988.
Once he had a dozen, he realized there were another dozen he had to have.
And when he had two dozen, he realized there were another 50 that he couldn't live without.
And then he began photographing these graceful plants with heart-shaped leaves. The retired London police officer used them to illustrate talks he gave.
Diana Grenfeil, who co-founded the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society, had seen and heard many of those lectures. So when she set about writing the "Color Encyclopedia of Hostas" (Timber Press, $49.95), she asked Shadrack to illustrate the book, which went on sale this spring. Shadrack traveled around the United States and to Canada, Holland, France and England to get the 800 photos that appear in the book.
And it was a love of gardening shared by him and his wife, Kathy Guest Shadrack, that lead this London dweller to East Aurora.
After retiring from the London police force, Shadrack said he wanted to do something "vaguely interesting." So, he began training to give tours of London to tourists.
"Then I realized the thing to do is have your own tour company," he said.
So far, he's done about six tours of gardens in various parts of Europe. Kathy Guest and others from the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens came along on one of those trips. Two years later, she returned for a garden tour in Holland.
Shadrack first noticed Guest when the group was at the American Air Force Cemetery in Cambridge on Memorial Day. They got engaged and married last August.
Their back yard is a blend of Shadrack's love of hostas and his wife's love of irises and daylilies. The garden holds about 150 hostas, including one variegated hosta named "Mike Shadrack' that was created by a hybridizer in Cleveland.
Hostas are divided into different categories based on the color of their leaves (and so are the chapters in the book.) In addition to green, there are hostas whose leaves have a touch of yellow or blue.
Shadrack's favorite yellow hosta is "Sun Power,' which has bright, golden yellow leaves and lavender flowers. His favorite blue is "Tenryu,' a statuesque hosta that cups its leaves so you can see the white backing.
Other favorites are "Alvatine Taylor,' a big, blousy hosta with a hint of yellow along the edges of the leaves and "Praying Hands,' a new variety that grows straight up. Some he likes just for their names - "Spilt Milk' or "Elvis Lives.'
"I only grow hostas because I can pronounce it," Shadrack joked. Most hostas only cost a few dollars. However, some new varieties will sell for hundreds. And one plant, which can produce variegated offspring, went for $3,500 at a charity auction.
Shadrack's next project is creating a bed at his home in East Aurora for some 400 miniature hostas. Unlike regular hostas, they remain tiny their entire lives.
Shadrack will plant some in scree (stone and gravel), others in alpine nooks and some in a bank of moss.
"I'm going to try to publicize the small hostas, which are more popular in England where gardens and homes are smaller," he said. "People don't realize how beautiful the baby ones are."
Basic care: Hostas will grow in almost any condition but prefer shade and well-drained soil. They need moisture, especially during the first year. When a clump gets too big, divide by cutting out a slice, as you would when slicing a cake.
After the foliage dies back in the fall, mulch over the plant well to prevent heaving, which will expose the crown and roots to the elements.
Hostas with yellow leaves like sun. Green and variegated tolerate sun. Those with blue leaves hate sun.
Pests: Slugs and snails are usually the biggest problem with hostas, marring the leaves with tiny holes.
Hosta-lover/photographer Mike Shadrack keeps his hostas picture perfect by putting down slug bait (active ingredient metaldehyde) near where the hostas will emerge as soon as the snow is gone. Repeat every two weeks.
"By the time you see the holes, it's too late," he said. "They have already laid the eggs and the next generation will emerge. You need to start early and break the cycle."