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Here, it’s hostas all the time

Ross Little doesn’t care much for grass. That’s not to say the Bloomingdale resident hates the outdoors – quite the opposite, actually. Ross and his wife, Kathy, own a piece of land a little more than an acre in size and have a backyard that most people would die for.

For as far as the eye can see, hostas and a host of varieties of groundcover such as pachysandra (also known as Japanese Spurge) and periwinkle dominate the landscape, and a tranquil creek runs right through the middle of it. It’s a little slice of paradise – but there’s hardly a blade of grass to be seen.

“Grass is not very environmentally friendly, really when you think of how much fertilizer people put on it, how much water they put on it, herbicides, insecticides, and C02 going into the air when they mow it,” said Ross while sitting in his living room that overlooks his backyard.

“Grass it pretty bad stuff when it comes right down to it.”

Over the past 35 years the couple has turned their passion for plants into a second career as they have been selling hostas and pachysandra out of pots on their driveway to neighbours, friends and family members.
“It just sort of started as a hobby when we moved out here,” said Kathy. “He likes plants. His two brothers also are gardeners and his mother was, so it’s natural for them.”

Their business all got started with one simple question more than three decades ago: “I wonder if I could sell something that I like to do so much for a hobby?” Ross asked his wife.

To find out, he went to a local greenhouse and asked if they had any Pachysandra in stock, and when the owner said no, Ross said he’d like to sell him some. The greenhouse owner agreed to buy five flats the following spring.
“So I rushed home and planted some, and they grew roots, which was a surprise to me,” recalls Ross. The next year he returned to the greenhouse to make good on the deal and the owner paid him $60 – it was the only money Ross would make that first year.

Hostas are very popular for gardeners and homeowners, as they enjoy the wide range of colours and shapes that the different varieties have to offer.
The fact that they’re “virtually impossible” to kill is an attractive feature as well, Ross said.

The only thing they need is water, something that is available in spades in his backyard, which is bisected with a stream that provides all the water he can use, he said.

They call their business Hostas Anytime, and Ross has 146 different varieties of the plant on his property. Kathy said her husband knows where each one is and has a collection of maps and sketches outlining their exact location. They’ve mainly operated through word-of-mouth with neighbours and friends, but about three years ago Ross started putting out signs by Sawmill Road.

The couple grow their own plants on their property, and the work stretches out over all 12 months; whether its potting plants in the spring and fall, caring for them during the hot summer months, or tending to potted plants stored in the garage over the winter, it’s a full-time job for the retired auto body mechanic.

Though for him it isn’t so much a job as it is a hobby.

“When I get up in the morning I don’t have to think ‘oh, what am I going to do today?,’” he said. “I just pick up my shovel and I know what I’m doing.”

The unseasonably warm weather in March brought gardeners out earlier than normal, he said, but much like apple growers who saw heavy losses to their crop when the frost returned in April, Ross and Kathy said that they too saw some losses when the temperatures reached -8 degrees on some nights.

“Much like a farmer growing his crop, we’re at the mercy of the weather,” said Ross. “We’ve got a certain amount of time to get the crop in, hope for good weather, and then we’ve got a certain amount of time to harvest it and the weather has to be on your side.

“With hostas you have a little more control than a planted seed, but you’re at the mercy of the weather all the time.”

As part of their business, the couple also provides free guided tours of their yard to show potential customers just how their plants might look in two to three years, something that is difficult to do when buying a young plant in a pot on the driveway.

“We like to take them out here, show them around, and make new friends. If they buy a plant, that’s a bonus,” said Ross.

“I do it because I love it. The money is just extra.”

For more information about Hostas Anytime, call (519) 576-9407.

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