Avid Belfast gardener to open Hosta Gallery to the public

Posted June 25, 2010, at 10:19 p.m.
BELFAST - Ron Dow stands among some of the many hostas in his Hosta Gallery at his home on the Back Belmont Road. Dow is holding open garden days this weekend to celebrate the Hosta Gallery's fifth year in Belfast. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY ABIGAIL CURTIS
BELFAST - Ron Dow stands among some of the many hostas in his Hosta Gallery at his home on the Back Belmont Road. Dow is holding open garden days this weekend to celebrate the Hosta Gallery's fifth year in Belfast. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY ABIGAIL CURTIS

BELFAST, Maine — Ron Dow’s home looks as if it’s sitting in the middle of a jungle — a homemade jungle composed almost entirely of shade-loving hostas.

Dow, a retired University of Maine at Presque Isle English professor, has been planting and tending the herbaceous perennials at his Back Belmont Road house since he moved there from Easton five years ago.

In Aroostook County, Dow had begun what he called the Hosta Gallery to grow and sell the plants that originally came from northeast Asia. With 400 hostas trucked down from Easton, the avid backyard gardener successfully transplanted his gallery in Waldo County. He will open it to the public this weekend.

“I hope people will walk through this and enjoy it,” he said Wednesday. “I think there’s a high degree, a great amount of beauty here — if you like this kind of thing.”

Count Dow among the people who really love this kind of thing. He became enamored of the lilylike perennial in 1986, when he saw them growing in a nursery. At the time, hostas were not very popular in the United States — but that has changed since then, he said.

“This explosion has come,” Dow said. “They’re a great landscaping plant. They’ll grow anywhere. They’re exceptionally well-suited to Maine because of the cold climate here.”

Hostas, natives of Korea and Japan, are a hardy breed. Some can even survive the first winter frosts, Dow said, and for a plant that is avidly collected, the prices are still quite reasonable.

They’ll sell for as little as $5 a plant, and a rare or uncommon hosta might sell for as much as $50 a plant.

Walking around his Hosta Gallery on a misty afternoon, Dow talks about the different plants and points out what makes each special. Some leaves are striped, some are crinkled and some are a green so deep and rich they appear to be blue. Some hostas are small and dainty looking, while others are enormous, stretching their leaves wide like an amiable version of killer Broadway plant Audrey II.

Dow said that hosta fever has led to nearly 3,000 different varieties, and many of those are tucked under the pine trees of his property.

“There is something for everything,” Dow said.

The different varieties of hostas have names that sound as if the horticulturists that develop them can’t quite keep up with the constant influx of newcomers. There is the beet salad hosta, so named because of its deep reddish stem, the Captain Kirk hosta, the first frost, the striptease, the pineapple upside-down cake, the twilight, the blue angel, the frozen margarita, the bodacious blue.

Dow has all these and more on display in the gallery.

“I never have one of anything,” he said. “Not anything.”

Ron Dow’s Hosta Gallery will be open to the public 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today and noon-4 p.m. Sunday, June 27.

The gallery is at 194 Back Belmont Road. Rain dates will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 10, and Sunday, July 11.

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