With most genus of plant these days, there are a myriad of varieties to choose from. Unless of course you are looking at a monotypic genus, Sciadopitys or Wollemia perhaps. But get into roses or Rhododendron, and there are probably trillions!
My chosen genus is Hostas (I grow dwarf conifers too but that is another story). It all started as a bit of an accident, I made the mistake of reading Sandra Bond's book, and then the even larger error of going to visit her, and I haven't looked back since. Until that point I thought there were only a couple of dozen varieties, and I suppose just a few decades ago that was the case. Now there are reputedly about 9,000 named forms, and the list is expanding all the time. Of course a lot of them are much of a muchness, or not very good, or were never in general circulation, and it generally takes a grower to champion a variety to bring it to public attention.
So, how do I pick? I generally look for good garden merit, something that is going to grow well for the average gardener. I'm looking for something with a bit of vigour, something not too tricky. And also something a bit different, I don't see the point in growing lots of very similar varieties. Having said that specialist growers/collectors do have a bit of a responsibility to keep venerable varieties going, as there is a mad dash in the trade for everything to be 'new', and new is often not better. Also old, reliable forms can prove very useful in hybridising. Which means that I do grow quite a few of the old Eric Smith tardiana hybrids. Halcyon is the best known, and as good as any, but there a lots more with excellent qualities that it is important to preserve.
My favourite Hostas, as a grower, are Hosta Christmas tree, which has splendid, crinkled leaves with good variegation, and seems to do well in sun or shade, and grows quite strongly, and H.Veronica Lake, which has small grey-green leaves with a cream margin, has an excellent growth rate and puts on a very good show of little pinkish lavender flowers. Both of these are good in containers too, an important consideration for modern gardening. Most of the Halcyon sports are good too, including June - possibly the most popular modern Hosta, and First Frost, with a lovely gold margin. Also those of fortunei origin - Gold Standard and Francee were the two originals, but now there are sports of those and sports of sports. Striptease is wonderful, when I first saw it I thought it might prove highly prone to reversion, but my stock keeps it's white stripe very well, rarely do I see a plain green leaf in there.
I try and avoid the weird and wonderful, although I'll give them a try in my collection. Many are disappointing, the Blue Mouse Ears sports usually seem to revert, and Tattoo is a nightmare to grow, some of the sieboldiana hybrids grow ok for a few years then just sort of turn strange and small, and some of the tokudamas are painfully slow, like those deep sea fish that take seventy years to reach maturity. Others though surprise me. I already mentioned Striptease, but Praying Hands is another. The first time I saw it I wrote it off as a peculiar novelty, and didn't acquire one myself initially, but I started to hear good things about it, and gave it a go. It is a little slow to begin with, but does, in a few years, turn into a superb specimen plant, looks great in a vase shaped pot somewhere prominent, and a lot of people wouldn't guess it is a Hosta.
I'd be interested to hear what other people's favourites are.
Hostas shown: 1. First Frost, 2. June, 3. Praying Hands, 4. Striptease, 5. Christmas Tree