By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Phil Hollenbaugh can’t walk past a weed without plucking it out of his hosta patch in Simpson Garden Park. His eyes are constantly searching for how to keep the hostas happy.
Hollenbaugh didn’t start out being partial to hostas. As a newly-certified master gardener, he was looking for some volunteer hours. He started out weeding the daylilies at Simpson Garden Park, then switched directions.
“I took the hosta section because it’s in the shade and close to the parking lot,” Hollenbaugh said with a grin.
But then something happened. He fell in love with hostas.
That was in 2012, when the Hosta Glen in Simpson Garden Park had about 34 different varieties. Six years and about 2,000 volunteer hours later, the hosta section has 925 different varieties.
That puts the Hosta Glen in the top two hosta gardens in the U.S. for most varieties, Hollenbaugh said proudly. And it earned the garden the American Hosta Society Award in 2014, designating it as an “American Hosta Display Garden.”
Hollenbaugh credits hosta expert Charlie Harper for cultivating his knowledge and garden.
“I saw his garden and fell in love with hostas,” said Hollenbaugh, a retired ironworker.
There are nearly 12,000 different varieties of hostas. Their names are as colorful and diverse and the plants. For example, in the BG Hosta Glen, there are varieties named Cracker Crumbs Hosta, Holy Mouse Ears Hosta, Strawberry Yogurt Hosta, Munchkin Fire Hosta, Surfer Girl Hosta, Tick Tock Hosta, Guilt by Association Hosta, Charlotte’s Web Hosta, Alice in Wonderland Hosta, Dancing Queen Hosta, Gumdrop Hosta, Sergeant Pepper Hosta, Curly Fries Hosta, Teeny Weeny Bikini Hosta and Guacamole Hosta.
Each variety of hostas in the garden has a name tag. One that gets a lot of attention is the Get Nekkid Hosta.
“When the kids see that, they crack up,” Hollenbaugh said.
It’s the combination of a great name and a great look that makes a great hosta, he said.
Hollenbaugh does have some favorite varieties, he said as he strolled through the garden.
“I’m partial to yellow and variegated,” he said. One of his all-time favorites is named Drawn Butter Hosta.
The hostas vary from mini to giant sizes. The largest can grow to five feet tall, and seven feet wide.
The garden’s national recognition has put it on the map for hosta lovers. Last year, a gardening group from Pennsylvania visited, and next month, a hosta club from Cincinnati is scheduled for a tour.
“People come from all over to see the garden now,” he said.
And Hollenbaugh isn’t satisfied with the Hosta Glen quite yet.
“I want to reach 1,000-plus varieties – then just maintain,” he said.
While most hostas are pretty hardy plants that last for years, they do require care. Hollenbaugh spends anywhere from one to seven hours a day working in the garden. There’s a lot of weeding and mulching required in the Hosta Glen that has grown to about 100 by 25 yards.
“This keeps me in shape, that’s for sure,” he said.
In addition to the plants, Hollenbaugh cut up old sandstone sidewalks to make edging along the garden pathways. He built several sections of woven fence using silver maple saplings from Wintergarden Park.
Then there are the pesky invaders that he keeps a keen eye out for in the garden. Earlier this week, he spotted one hosta suffering from cutworms. “Those little varmints eat anything,” he said. He also watches out for slugs, snails and voles.
As the hostas grow, Hollenbaugh often has to transplant to give them more room.
“I enjoy it, but I always see more things that need to be done,” he said.
“I never imagined I would do this. I had no idea what it would become,” Hollenbaugh said. “I always get real nice compliments.”
Hollenbaugh’s efforts recently earned him the Spirit of the Foundation Award from the BG Parks & Recreation Foundation. The award was created in 1999 to acknowledge those community members who have gone above and beyond in support of the mission of the foundation, according to Ellen Dalton, a member of the foundation.
The mission is to support and enhance the activities of the Parks & Recreation Department and to help ensure that it will continue to provide quality leisure opportunities for the residents of Bowling Green.
“We appreciate Phil’s dedication and hard work,” Dalton said.