Hosta Frances Williams

Dig into the dirt on one of the hosta world’s most recognized varieties: ‘Frances Williams.’
By: Julie A Martens
Green Foliage

Green Foliage

A single broad bladed Hosta like the yellow variegated Frances Williams will make a strong sculptural statement when surrounded by dainty blooms.

Photo by: DK - Gardening Shortcuts

DK - Gardening Shortcuts

Ever wonder which hosta was named after the most influential person in the modern history of hostas? It’s Hosta ‘France Williams.’ Frances Ropes Williams graduated as one of the first landscape architects from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was passionate about hosta varieties—before they were a favorite plant among gardeners. In 1936 at Bristol Nursery in Connecticut, she discovered a hosta with blue-green leaves edged in gold. That hosta eventually became her namesake: Hosta ‘Frances Williams.’

‘Frances Williams’ hosta brings together many highly valued attributes of hosta varieties. It grows to a large size, forming clumps up to 5 feet across with leaves standing atop 2-foot-tall stems. The leaves are rugose and crinkled, almost corrugated. This striking leaf texture also gives Hosta ‘Frances Williams’ slug resistant qualities.

When Hosta ‘Frances Williams’ was first named, it went by the botanical moniker Hosta sieboldiana ‘Aureomarginata.’ Growers and gardeners alike favored the hosta. Who wouldn’t want a hosta with striking leaf colors, large size and slug resistance? Eventually this plant made it to Oxford University gardens in England, where a famous British gardener, George Robinson, dubbed it after its discoverer, coining the name Hosta ‘Frances Williams.’

Mrs. Williams wrote about hostas throughout the 1960s and corresponded with other hosta collectors throughout her life, from the 1930s until her death in 1969. Her early efforts in connecting hosta aficionados eventually led to the formation of The American Hosta Society. To this day, Hosta ‘Frances Williams’ is one of the most widely recognized hostas among gardeners.

If you add ‘Frances Williams’ hosta to your garden, keep an eye out for white flowers in midsummer. They’ll soar above the mound of foliage on stems about 3 feet tall. The white is a nice complement to the blue-green and gold leaf color.

The one problem with Hosta ‘Frances Williams’ is a condition known as spring dessication burn. It’s a problem that plagues hostas with large leaves in shades of blue-green and gold. The gold sections sometimes become clear and dried out by early summer, then shift to brown, dead tissue that may even fall out of the leaf. It only affects some sections of the gold leaf parts—and only occurs in certain years.

The cause is quite a mystery, but researchers think it’s related to freezing night temps in early spring during the time that leaves of Hosta ‘Frances Williams’ are rapidly expanding. The freeze damages the new gold leaf tissue, and direct sun or high winds dries out that damaged tissue the next day, effectively killing it. By early summer, the dead areas are readily visible. The best solution is to try to cover hostas during early spring freezes.

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