Jonathan Hogarth of Hogarth Hostas holds a National Collection of Small and Miniature Hostas. In 2016 Jonathan exhibited his Hosta collection at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where the RHS judges presented him with a Silver-Gilt Medal, and at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, where Jonathan was presented with a Gold Medal and the Best Plant Heritage Exhibit by the RHS judges.
In 2017 the RHS judges at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show awarded Jonathan Hogarth a Silver Medal for his beautiful display of miniature and small Hostas. I met Jonathan Hogarth at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, to learn more about Jonathan’s Hosta collection and his unstoppable passion for this particular plant genus.
Pumpkin Beth: So who first introduced you to miniature Hostas, or did you come across Hostas for the first time in a garden?
Jonathan Hogarth: I bought a house and it came with a Hosta. From there, ten years and two children later, we went to visit some friends and I saw there were different Hostas there. I thought there was only a green Hosta! So I started getting a yellow one, the blue one, and then I found the variegated ones, so I came away with twelve different Hostas. I knew how to grow Hostas by then, as for 10 years I’d looked after my plant, I’d put a few slug pellets around and it almost looked after itself. I thought to myself, well this Hosta is quite a nice plant – it’s looking after me as much as I’m looking after it!
PB: Yes it is!
JH: I then found a specialist Hosta nursery, and I joined the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society, of which I have recently been appointed as Chairman!
PB: How exciting, congratulations!
PB: It’s lovely that you have so enjoyed being a member of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society, that you have now gone on to become their Chairman! I’d love to encourage my readers who are keen Hosta growers to join the society too.
JH: People need to consider that you’re joining a club for a certain reason. One of the reasons is that you’re going to get something out of it; we all want to get something out of it, but you want to join the club because you like what you’re doing and you’d like to help other people, or you don’t really care about the other people, but you want to expand your knowledge. The only way to do that after you’ve gone through the specialist nurseries is to get to the people who are actually the specialists. By joining the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society you get to all the people who care about their plants and love them, and have a passion. So if you’ve a passion, joining the club gives you access to all the other people, and maybe you’ve got something to give as well.
JH: When I joined the Society I met Mike Shadrack who was the Chairman of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society before me; he’s a lovely man, he really is – he’s just unbelievable. Well, what happened was that in 2005 my mother died, and I thought well, the job is getting on top of me and people were treating like wallpaper, and they expected me to be there, so I thought, “I’m going to go to the American Hosta Association’s convention”. So off I went, and I’ve never looked back, and in fact I’ve been there every year since. It’s great, it’s like one big family out there – they look out for you and they’re really just nice people.
PB: Wow! I didn’t realise that you go every year!
JH: I can’t stop going, it’s terrific! America rules the roost – it’s the number one in the world. They are just incredible! You can find the newest plants in America.
I spoke to Bob Solberg – he’s one of the top people in the world. He said, “I’ve got something new – I’ve got a surprise for you!” He said, “I’ve got Hosta ‘Mouse Magic! Here you are!” And he gave me a plant! Now, in America there are six plants, and in the rest of the world I’ve got the only one. So now I’ve risen up through the ranks!
PB: Wow! How kind, that’s amazing! What is Hosta ‘Magic Mouse’ like?
JH: It’s a beautiful colour – it’s greeny-blue in the centre, it’s got the white that Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’ has got, it’s just a plain leaf, but it’s vibrant and it’s wonderful. It’s a winner! It’s one of those that if you’re walking along and you’re a magpie and you like shiny things that are bright and gorgeous, you’ll pick it out straight away. It’s going to be a big plant. So there’s always another one to have, you know.
PB: It sounds like you’ve made some great friends.
JH: Then I went to see another chap in Mason Hollow, a chap called Chuck. He said, “I’ve got a Hosta for you, have that one!” Chuck was doing trials and he asked me to see what I can do with the plant. So all these people are actually giving plants, so I seem to be going up in the world.
PB: There’s nothing nicer than giving somebody a plant!
JH: Certainly Bob Solberg didn’t need to give me that, he could have sold it to me for £100, and I’d have bought it!
PB: Goodness me, wow!
PB: Are there any new Hosta plants featured in your exhibit?
JH: Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’ is the new plant.
PB: What’s special about Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’?
JH: Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’ was produced in 2013 by Walters Gardens. In 2014 I bought it in America. In 2017 it has just become available in the UK for the first time. It’s a beautiful plant, with a really yellowy, frilly white edge to it, just like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt when she was holding it down with the wind blowing up from the grate. It’s just so pretty like that. And of course it’s one of the Blue Mouse Ears Series, it’s just an unbelievable plant, it really is.
PB: I love the Blue Mouse Ears Series! I have previously written about Hostas that I had grown, which hadn’t in previous years suffered from slug damage; I think the slugs read my articles, because since then many of my Hostas have been damaged!
JH: It’s down to the thickness of the leaf. If the slug or the snail tries to bite the Hosta and can’t get a hold of the leaf, it gives up. But it’s different as the Hosta is coming out of the ground – if the slug can get to the leaf then, as it’s coming out of the ground, it’ll nibble away, because those nice, thick leaves are still quite soft when they’re young, so the slug will most likely go crazy and destroy all the leaves.
But if you can let the plant grow for about a month, and keep the slugs and snails at bay, then you’re onto a winner, because the plants in the Blue Mouse Ears Series produce a thicker leaf and it does put the slugs off. To say it’s slug proof, it’s not what it is. But if the slugs and snails can’t chew a hole through the leaf and carry on nibbling, they’ll just tell all their friends, ‘forget it’, so there you are.
PB: Which Hostas would you recommend that offer the most resistance to slugs and snails?
JH: There’s some medium to large Hostas, such as Hosta ‘Rhino Hide’ and Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’.
PB: Yes, Sum and Substance is a lovely Hosta, although that has been eaten this year in my garden.
JH: It has, because as the plant came up from the ground it will have been nibbled. There are some ways around it – and that’s to use a weak ammonia mix before the plants emerge in the spring. Use a small amount, put it into your watering can, as a weak solution and water it all over the area where the Hostas are growing in the ground. It does two things – it kills the slugs and snail eggs completely, and it kills the slugs and snails themselves.
PB: Isn’t that bad for the soil?
JH: No, it’s good for the soil, because it fixes nitrates into the soil, so in fact the plants come up twice as good.
The other thing you can do, we found that slugs and snails stay away from wild garlic – they don’t like the onion family, one of our Society members makes an effective slug deterrent; they put a garlic bulb into some tights, put this in a pint of water and simmer for twenty minutes. Discard the tights and garlic mush, and leave to cool. Add about five drops of the garlic concentrate to a one-pint container of water; spray under the leaves, and on top, to keep the slugs and snails at bay.
PB: Yes, I’ve tried it in my Slug and Snail Trials, and for many years before that, but sadly the garlic wash didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped last year in my trial.
PB: So what is your favourite Hosta?
JH: Well, the Hosta I haven’t got. Well, now I’ve got it, because nobody else has got it, it’s called Hosta ‘Mouse Magic’, Bob Solberg’s Hosta, and I’m more than happy with that. I’ve got my favourite Hosta at the moment.
And that’s what the Hosta world’s about, we’re all looking out for each other. When I got over to America, they all said, “Ah, we saw you on television!” Somebody put the word around on Facebook, and they all watched it on Facebook! I can’t get away from this BBC fame!
The thing that was really nice was, that there was a chap who saw my TV debut at Chelsea, and he then wrote to me, asking, “Will you please send Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’ to my father for Father’s Day. He’s raving about it, he loves Hostas, and he’s ninety-seven! He’s still going at it, and he loves it!” So I had to arrange for “This is a present from your son, and the invoice has been taken care of”, and sent that off to him. He must have been chuffed as blazes, as that’s the one thing he wanted!
Beth: Ah, how lovely, what a super present. Do you only grow miniature Hostas Jonathan?
JH: I do grow the larger ones too, but I hold a National Collection of Small and Miniature Hostas.
PB: How many Hostas do you have in your garden?
JH: Too many! My greenhouse is brimming, I cannot get any more plants and I need another greenhouse, it’s 16×8, and I need another one, which is bigger.
PB: Do you need a bigger garden too?
JH: No, I just need to get rid of the grass and grow more Hostas!
JH: I’ve got an area – the whole rear of my garden is 55ft by 50ft. I’ve got a small greenhouse which is in the sun, so I’m growing tomatoes in it now.
Geoff Hamilton recommended that you should buy Tomato ‘Sungold’. After Geoff died, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a tomato festival, and in fact Sungold won then. It is unbelievable! Orange, and sweet, and oh, just gorgeous!
PB: Do you grow a lot of edibles then?
JH: I grow tomatoes, a lot of fruit – I’ve got apricots, raspberries, redcurrants, blueberries. I tried growing a bit of veg but the slugs got the better of them. Onions are the best things to grow in the ground, they won’t nibble those.
Beth: Did you have a favourite garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show?
JH: Chris Beardshaw’s garden was my favourite.
PB: So can you tell me about your upcoming exhibit at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017?
JH: We’re trying to do a first. I’ve won for two years running, and I want Jackie (Jackie Currie, who holds a National Collection of Alliums) to win this time – but for all that I’m going to give Jackie a run for her money! One of the things I’m doing is that I want to do a first. Now nobody has done this in the Plant Heritage – I’m putting two totally different genera of plants together but with a connection. I’m using my mini Hostas with Adrian Young’s Saxifrage.
Adrian is at Waterperry Gardens; they were significant in the whole of the world because the lady of the manor was in charge of the garden, because her husband left that up to her. Up until this point all the men were head gardeners, and then in the 1920s along came this lady, who said, “No, I think ladies should be head gardeners as well!” And they ‘kicked bottom,’ and said we’re going to train ladies to be head gardeners – they’re very good at it. They’ve had a bit of a fight, to see whether the men were in fact better than the ladies.
Waterperry were in fact the first place that was in the UK, for actually training ladies to be head gardeners. Their connection is that Adrian has got his collection at Waterperry – they have open days when you can go along and see their National Collection of Saxifrage. Now Adrian’s got two to three different collections – he’s the number one in Europe for saxifrage.
The connection is that Saxifrage and mini Hostas are used in bonsai. If you’re displaying bonsai there are three categories, there’s the tree and the bowl. Some of these bowls can be very expensive, up to ten thousand pounds if they’ve been made by a Japanese master. The plant is displayed in a bowl. Then the second category is to show it as the Japanese hillside, so you should have the tree hanging onto the side of rocks, that’s the second category. And the third one, is the tree on its own with accent plants; they’re there to promote the plant, as the thing that you should be looking at, but also to give it a talking point. It’s a totally different plant, but designed to show it as being in the same season as the tree. So if the tree is in flower, it has to be in flower; if the tree is in fruit it’s got to be in fruit. If the tree is dormant then it’s supposed to be dormant, so it’s a Japanese category to enhance the tree’s status.
So, accent plants have been used since about 1950. They’ve come on strong since then, they’ve been used for centuries in Japan, originally bonsai was invented in China, but it then transferred to Japan, where they refined it yet again. There was no arguments, they didn’t argue about who was best or whatever, they were just pleased to be doing the same thing. So because the RHS have never seen a first of two totally different categories put together of National Collections, we’ve got to do it!
Beth: So was it your idea?
JH: Erm, yes. Adrian was going to sit on the fence and say, “I’ve got my saxifrage and I’m quite happy with them.”
But I said, “No Adrian, you have to show them off!”
They look like small little Chrysanthemums all curled up – we’re talking about the size of your little finger, so ideal for the bonsai people to show off their little plants.
So in our display we will have a bonsai tree in the middle of the display, but we’re not showing the particular accent bowls that you would normally show – because if you show one bowl, you have to show them all with a bowl, and these can be up to £30 a bowl. So we’re not prepared to do that, so we’re just simply showing them as our plants, which is Saxifrage and mini Hostas, together in a display, but the connection is that they’re used in the bonsai world. So maybe we won’t do too well out of it – but we can tell people about it and explain the connection.
When you go into the Heritage Section you must do either scientific, or you must do educational. So the banner itself is actually saying that the connection between these two is in fact the bonsai tree.
We borrowed a bonsai tree from a guy who’s actually a club member who lives in Wandsworth. His name is Chris Gurne. He’s lending me the plant; he’s in the south London club, I met him at Chelsea, and he said, “I’ll bring you one over”.
PB: That’s fantastic! I can’t wait to see your exhibit at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017! You’ve done so much with Hostas over the past few years Jonathan, it’s wonderful and quite amazing!
JH: I started off, the Hostas chose me because I bought a house, and that’s the thing. From there to now – wow! Last year I met the Queen thanks to Sue Biggs. She’s been just so nice; I took the mickey out of her something rotten the year before. Sue loves a joke, she’s such a fun person, the RHS is so lucky with her. What happened was, in 2015 I went over to Hampton Court, and I won a Gold Medal and Best in Section, I expected them to say, “It’s quite nice,” and “perhaps you can do better next time”.
I spoke to Sue Biggs and she said, “You’re a pain, you really are. Everywhere I go, everyone’s talking about you!”
I said, “I hope they’re talking about the Hostas!”
Now, Paul, at Brookfield Hostas, had Camilla walk by – Camilla remembers peoples’ names. Camilla saw George who works for Paul, and said, “George, I’m just going to present somebody with Best in Section, I’ll be back in about ten to fifteen minutes, Please could you sort something out for my husband, Prince Charles?”
So George speaks to Paul, and says that HRH Camilla wants to buy some plants. Paul says, “I’d have given them to her!”
Paul was later presented to Camilla, and Camilla then chose three plants, as she went away. Paul was thinking, ‘I haven’t been paid, but it didn’t matter because it was such a great experience’. With that, up came the maid and paid by credit card. So that’s what happened to Paul.
So now I end up with Sue Biggs at Chelsea, she turns up with her sister the day after, and I’m telling her the same story. Having chosen some plants from my stand, Sue says, “I haven’t brought my handbag, I don’t have my card with me!”
So I looked at the lady next to her, having not been introduced, and said, “Hasn’t your maid got your credit card?”
Sue said, “Blooming cheek – who does she think she is?!”
So to dig myself out of the hole, I said, “This lady is RHS Royalty!”
Of course I had a laugh about that! Sue wanted to get her own back on me. I went to Chelsea, and on Monday she brought the Queen by, and she stepped back, and then she put her finger up the side her eye as if to say, “Here’s your surprise!”
Sue is so lovely, every time I see here I make a big fuss of her, give her a big hug, and say how she’s ruining my life but in a nice way! She is just one of the nicest people the RHS could ever have.
PB: How lovely Jonathan! I am so glad that you’ve received such great support and encouragement.
JH: Anyway, the BBC came to me here, but we had to pretend it was tomorrow, Wednesday.
PB: Oh, like Jools Holland when he does the Hootenany!
JH: I don’t know about that. But the thing that was embarrassing was that when my bit went out on Chelsea, they told me that it might go out Tuesday or Wednesday, probably Wednesday. So that was how it was left. I got there on Wednesday, and all of these people taking photos of my stand. I thought I’ll move out of the way, but they said they wanted me in the picture, because they saw me on TV.
It was only then that I realised it had gone out on the Tuesday, and I was then asked, “Can I have my photograph with you? Can you sign one of your catalogues?”
What’s going on? Am I some sort of Hosta celebrity? I said to my wife, I’m going to have to hang out in garden centres so that people will still recognise me! I’m not really like that, I’ve spent most of my life shunning anything like that, but now the limelight’s here, I’ve not really got much of a choice, I’ve got to shine!
A shortened version of this interview was first published in the August 2017 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
Other articles that may interest you……….
To read my interview with Jonathan Hogarth at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, please click here.
To see an overview of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To see an overview of the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017, please click here.
To see an overview of the Rose of the Year 2017, please click here.