Photography by Clint Farlinger
Driving along the back roads in Walworth township, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty that lies before you. Mature trees, stately homes, large dairy farms, rolling hills. But what’s not evident are the hidden gems — places that are tucked away; unnoticed until someone mentions them in passing. An arboretum of hosta plants that stretches over three acres and is bordered by trees that provide a thick canopy of shade is one such place. Although unknown to many, it’s where Al Ritchey has spent countless hours over the last 25 years clearing underbrush, amending the soil, and then planting and evaluating hostas through trial and error to find the best sizes, colors and varieties.
Located on North Walworth Road, west of the familiar Pearce Farm Stand, the arboretum is hidden behind the Ritchey family’s home and Al’s primary business — his auto body shop. The arboretum has developed a following through word of mouth, garden clubs and through Ritchey’s annual Hosta Fest, heading into its 17th year and scheduled for May 26-28 and June 2-3.
The annual event is the perfect opportunity to wander through this lush garden that is home to 500-600 varieties of hosta plants interspersed with lamium ground cover that Ritchey thinks just might keep the deer at bay. The natural setting showcases textured shades of green hues almost as far as the eye can see.
In addition to enjoying the beauty of this natural setting, visitors can seek Ritchey’s advice for growing this perennial favorite and select the right plants for their particular landscape. Plants of all sizes from those in small one-gallon pots to large, 20-25 gallon landscape sizes, to what Ritchey calls the “wow-now” specimen or trophy size plants will all be available for sale. Ritchey has used his expertise to choose and then propagate the hardiest plants, those he calls “bullet proof.”
Hosta Fest is held rain or shine from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. all five days. In fact, a cloudy day or a little rain makes the plants look that much better Richey adds. And he and his team of family and friends will be ready with umbrellas for those wanting to take a stroll through his secret garden.
For more information, visit Al’s Auto Body & Arboretum on Facebook.