The love of hostas might be seen as an addiction for Terry Gage of Schoolcraft who has between 700 and 800 varieties of hostas in his yard on Prairie Ronde Street.
This is a subdivision with terrific land for growing just about anything, said Terry. That’s likely because his home is situated on what was referred to as the Schoolcraft Prairie by early settlers and which has grown some of the richest crops in Kalamazoo County since the 1800s.
Gage started with a few plants after he and his wife, Linda, moved to Schoolcraft in 1996 and in 2002 he had about 65 varieties and wanted each new variety he saw in the nurseries. He grows giant hostas, in particular, and favors streaked and variegated plants in every size imaginable.
“Now I actually propagate my own varieties each year by saving seeds to create new and exciting varieties,” he said. “I mark the variety and put the seeds in the refrigerator. By March 1, I plant them under artificial light in my basement and by mid-May, bring them outdoors to harden off for planting.”
Besides skillfully locating each variety under the proper foliage in his yard, Gage can tell the stories of all of his hostas, their particular characteristics, and from whom he might have purchased the original hosta.
The most expensive hosta he ever bought was a Gunther’s Prize for which he paid $70 at an auction in Iowa.
He describes himself as being “totally obsessive about raising every kind of hosta imaginable,” sometimes getting up at 5:30 a.m., to beat the bees from cross pollinating so he can achieve the mutation he’s hoping for.
He makes up names for the new varieties he propagates. An expert hosta grower in Iowa keeps an alphabetical list of all the thousands of hostas, including each plant’s heritage, he said.
Hostas are reasonably easy to grow, Gage said. The only problems he encounters to any degree are voles, cutworms, and slugs that eat the roots. Rabbits eat one or two leaves at a time, sample them and don’t like the taste.
Deer were prevalent when they first built, Gage said, but now they have moved along to the neighbors and open farm fields. He fertilizes twice in May with osmacote that contains magnesium sulfate, plus he uses large quantities of wood mulch.
Just a few weeks ago, the Chicago Area Hosta Society visited his hosta garden on a tour. However, he wasn’t home to tell about his penchant for the new and different varieties.
Instead, he was in Dayton, OH, for a big meeting of hosta growers from all over the Midwest. Fortunately, all of his plants are identified with markers that his wife, Linda, carefully letters and places on stakes beside each hosta.