Building the Case
When I first started attending hosta meetings in the mid-1990's,
many famous hosta people would be present at them and Aden's name
came up sometimes. I can't remember a good word ever said about
him, and he himself did not seem to be a member of any society
other than the AHS, and he did not attend the AHS conventions
either. He was a recluse, living in his Baldwin home on Long
Island. No one seemed interested in contacting him for any
(r.) with Carl Christ at the 2001 AHS Convention - the last he
I attended several meetings of the Tri-State Hosta Society on Long Island while Aden lived there and saw no sign of him. One day near the end of the century Tri-State decided to invite Aden to speak at one of their meetings. The hostility level directed at Aden was so high that some of us were recruited to sit next to luminaries like Alex Summers and Warren Pollock to act as bouncers if that hostility erupted during Aden's talk. Things remained peaceful, but it certainly was an interesting day.
In the Northeast, the stories about Aden were well-known and always circulating. He was the bogeyman in many hosta circles, but still the golden boy in the wider horticultural world. The great founder of the AHS, Alex Summers, for whom the society's highest award is named openly called Aden a liar and a thief and vowed to prevent him from receiving that award because he had done nothing to deserve it. On the other hand, famous New York Times garden columnist Ann Raver wrote of Aden in glowing terms as "one of the world's most humble and most dedicated hosta growers". Which Aden was the real Aden?
Although the Court of Public Opinion doesn't have any clear rules about evidence, it is always in session. There will always be those who want to take upon themselves the right to make a determination for everyone, but over time people can and will decide for themselves. In the course of the investigation I admit that I have reached my own personal conclusion regarding the provenance of the Aden plants, but it is not my intention to decide their fate for everybody. I have a right to decide for myself and so does everyone else. No one has the right to decide for all of us.
To reach my decision I had to look at many aspects of the case. The weight of all the testimony over all the years since 1974 is very heavy on one side of the scale, and remarkably light on the other. Many highly respected people had nothing good to say about Aden - he was in fact despised in some circles.
Aden for his part refused to discuss the background of the plants he was questioned about. He maintained he had a right to keep that as a trade secret, that if he told everyone how he had produced them then they would all be doing it. That is a plausible reason for secrecy, but one that has some holes, most notably in his apparent lack of any knowledge of hybridizing. How could a person who had produced a great number of spectacular variegated plants be totally unaware that variegated seedlings only come from streaked pod parents? That is one of the first things he would have learned if he had in fact created those plants himself.
Then there was the major
issue of where he was doing the hybridizing. Hybridizers know that
the huge and remarkable list of Aden registrations was the result of
a lot of crossing and seedling growing and selection. A hybridizing
program of the necessary size and scope is hardly invisible as it
would involve thousands of seedlings under evaluation at any given
time. Many were baffled by the lack of any such hybridizing efforts
at Aden's home, and skeptical of his stories of secret seedling beds
elsewhere. Had he let even one person see those secret beds he would
have quelled all those rumors about the plants not being his. The
mystery of the seedling beds is a key part of getting to the bottom
of the plant origins. They grew in somebody's seedling bed and if
Aden had no such beds of his own, then the plants simply couldn't be
lost 'Royal Rainbow' in 1978
Aden's very first
registrations were of four plants: 'Blue Cadet', 'Gold Cadet',
'Gold Regal', and 'Sun Glow'. Of the four, 'Blue Cadet' was
known to be a Florence Shaw plant that she had shared with
friends for several years. The others looked like the plants she
was working with too, but no one can confirm that they were with
any certainty. That aside, with the inclusion of 'Blue Cadet'
in his first registrations, a plant Aden clearly knew was Florence
Shaw's, without mentioning her name on the registration card, it
was clear that Aden had no qualms about taking credit for the work
of others. Two years later,
Aden registered another 23 hostas which included 3 more that
were known to be Mrs. Shaw's.
clear cases of taking credit for the work of others followed, but
those were only a small number of the plants he registered.
Information about all the rest has been hard to come by. Aden
himself not only left no records, but actively sought to conceal
the origins of the plants he registered. So the question becomes
one of determining whether he was in fact the hybridizer he posed
as but never actually claimed to be, that did a few bad things but
otherwise did great work of his own, or was it all a great
deception with plants from others that he just pretended were his
In a fraud case, when
it goes to court in the U.S., what is looked at is what's called
the "fraud triangle". First of the three points of the
triangle is motive, or why someone might be moved to commit the
fraud. Second is opportunity, or whether they had a situation
where it was possible for them to commit fraud and to conceal it
after the fact. Third is rationalization, or why it was OK, or at
least not so bad for them to do it in their own mind.
Paul Aden, who lived a
quiet and unremarkable life as a schoolteacher on Long Island, sought
the limelight throughout his alternate career in horticultural
circles. There is no doubt that he coveted fame and fortune
in the world of ornamental plants, sometimes to grandiose excess
such as calling himself the "Father of Hosta".
Opportunity is very
interesting. In order to pull it off, he needed a very special and
unusual set of circumstances. First, he needed to find someone or
more than one person who had been doing a lot of hybridizing and
had produced a body of work that topped everything done before.
He did find two that
fit the bill and was confirmed to have contact with and acquire
numerous plants from both. Not only did he need to find a source,
but that source had to keep quiet about him taking credit for the
plants. The first source, Florence Shaw, passed away soon after.
The other, Kevin Vaughn, was strung along for years with empty
The second thing
necessary to provide the opportunity was a weak and undeveloped
plant society and community devoted to hostas. He left the daylily
world after some undefined controversy, perhaps because the
opportunity to advance himself on the work of others did not exist
there. The hybridizing scene in the daylily field had
been established for decades, and the community attitudes about
theft and fraud were firm as it gets. A well known daylily story
has a person who stole pollen from a hybridizer's garden virtually
ostracized for the crime. The American Hosta Society was small and
newly formed in the early 1970's, and the few people hybridizing
hostas did not have much contact with each other.
The third thing was a
registration authority he could use to establish himself in
everyone's minds as the official person who created the plants.
When the AHS created the registration authority for hostas in
1974, Aden was waiting at the door and immediately registered a
"test batch" of four apparent Florence Shaw plants while
she was still alive but in deteriorating health. When they were
accepted without question by the brand-new Registrar, he knew he
Lastly, he needed
to conceal and protect his assertions that the plants were his
against any change in registrars or AHS officials. He was able to
become a board member of the AHS and remain one for 13 years,
maintaining a position where he could fight any talk about
revealing his secret with threats of lawsuits. Because he was
making quite a bit of money from the plants, and that could
be threatened by revelations about the sources of the plants,
it was believed by many that he really would sue anyone
Our research committee
was able to identify two hybridizers in the Northeast that both
had contact with Aden and were possible sources of most of the
early Aden plants. We next looked into the type of material they
had to work with and whether they had the necessary parent
plants to create the plants that Aden registered. Our
committee was made up of hybridizers, most with 15 years or more
experience. Plants like 'Elatior' and streaked pod parents were
extremely rare at that time, and absolutely necessary for a
hybridizer to produce those plants.
After learning what Florence Shaw was working with, all of us on the
committee agreed that she had the ability to produce most of the
early Aden registrations. In looking into her further, we found that
she had a hybridizing program of sufficient size and scope to
account for many of the most well-known "Aden plants". A
similar evaluation was made regarding Kevin Vaughn's work. Both
clearly possessed and were using the necessary parent plants, and
creating plants of the type Aden registered. Both as well had Aden
taking plants from their gardens without permission. We looked too
to see if there were any other hybridizers who were doing similar
work that could have been the source for some of the plants. Of
those we know were working with hostas at that time, none let Aden
have any plants and some, like David Stone, had no contact with him
at all as far as we could determine.
Cadet' - the first one he took credit for
final point on the fraud triangle is rationalization that what he
did was OK. As Aden never admitted where he got the plants he
registered, we will never know for sure what went on in his head
as he road them to fame and fortune. His few supporters do offer
some rationalizations that likely were part of his own thinking.
Foremost of these is that if he hadn't gotten those plants and
moved them into the marketplace they might well have been lost
forever. There is some truth to that, but he could have credited
the people whose plants they were and accomplished the same if
that were his goal. Maybe they would have gotten some of the money
and that was the reason he tried to pass them off as his own.
Maybe it was the fame, the opportunity to pass himself off as a
great hybridizer that caused him to do it. We'll never know for
sure if he even did rationalize his actions.
knew him only briefly in the later years of his life. Between
trying to pass off a few plants in his yard as his own work, he
would tell endless stories that were not remotely believable,
stories that mostly had him interacting with famous people of the
day like Albert Einstein and Benjamin Disraeli. Paul Aden
certainly had an active fantasy life.
last time I saw Aden was a particularly telling one. Again invited
to speak at a meeting of the Tri-State Hosta Society, he was
approached by a new-to-hosta Kathie Sisson. She had a copy of a
hosta book and asked Aden to autograph a page with one of the
plants he had registered on it. Aden declined, saying "That's
not my plant." She turned to another famous "Aden
plant", and again Aden declined, saying "That's not my
plant." A bit flustered, she turned to one popular Aden
registration after another. 'Sun Power', 'Blue Angel', 'Sum and
Substance', 'Fragrant Bouquet', etc. Aden kept saying they were
not his and when she gave up he just walked away.
know what to make of that at the time, but have since come to
believe that it was Aden finally tiring of maintaining the great
deception. He no longer cared to try to get people to believe the
plants were his own originations. The game was up, and he was
tipping over the king on the board.
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