These all-time favorite shade perennials are now surprisingly affordable.

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I remember when most garden centers sold only two kinds of hostas – a solid green one and a green one called ‘Aureovariegata' with a yellowish-white edge to the leaves. Still, we really liked them, because they were the most attractive perennials for the shade.

Nurseries soon noticed their popularity. Every plant breeder this side of Saturn got into the act of making new hostas. The ability of different hosta species to hybridize, mishmash their genes, and mutate soon produced hundreds of different forms – blue ones, yellow ones, green ones, variegated ones, miniature ones, giant ones, pleated ones, curly ones, fragrant ones, and red-stemmed ones.

The only trouble with this was that in order to procure these brave, new kinds, you had to order from specialists through the mail. The prices were stratospheric – $25, $50, $75 for a single pot in a four-inch pot that a vole could dispatch in an evening. There are very few perennials that don't sing and dance for which I'm shelling out $75. That's not being cheap. That's being sensible.

Well, Grumpy has GOOD NEWS on this front. Many of the very best and most beautiful hostas are now available at independent garden centers and big box stores for a fraction of that price. Most of the plants in my own garden cost me no more than $7 for a quart pot. Each plant can easily double in size in a year and I can divide it next spring to get a free plant. Wahooooo!

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While it's best to visit garden centers in April and May for the widest selection, you can still find treasures all summer if you take time to look. Believe it or not, I scored some of my favorites, like ‘Stained Glass' (golden leaves with dark green margins; fragrant, lavender flowers), ‘June' (golden leaves with blue-green edges; fragrant, white blooms), and ‘Halcyon' (blue leaves, lilac-blue flowers) on sale at Wal-Mart. Sometimes it helps when merchants don't know what they have.

One good thing about shopping locally is you can sift through the offerings and get choose bigger plants with better root systems. I always look for roots just peeking out of the pot's drainage holes, so I know the roots have filled out the pot and the soil won't fall from the roots when I remove it. Plus, I can shop and plant when I want. I'm not slave to a seasonal shipping schedule.

Hostas are no longer luxury items. Power to the people!