Love at First Sight

 The first title for this article was to be "Love at First Look." But editor Glen Williams thought some readers might take this to be a sensational account of extra-curricular antics at the First Look event and vetoed the idea. Though I tried to explain that some hostas end up receding in memory like a one-night stand*, he pointed out that he must stand up for family values. No kiss-and-tell gossip items were allowed in his highbrow publication. Reluctantly, I have agreed to keep my text free of all tawdry items, such as which octogenarian world-famous New England hosta hybridizer is also known for her fondness for younger men.

 Since inquiring minds do want to know, this article is the result of pressing on with the idea of obtaining reminiscences from a few hostarians, who would stand still for a quick question. Some are collectors, some hybridizers, some have been instrumental in the workings of their local or the national society. All are gardeners first and foremost. Their accounts briefly recall a hosta or hosta garden that got them hooked on hostas, or a later encounter that resulted in love, or lust (sorry, Glen) at first sight.

 Herewith, and to wit, a few quick Man in the Street quotes. Some of these sound bites were collected on the electronic superhighway, where I remain a hitchhiker, and others were gathered face to face. Many thanks, and apologies, to all who shared.

 

Mildred Seaver - Needham, Massachusetts:  Mildred recalls that it was in the beloved garden of Leola Fraim that she first saw the beauty and potential of hostas, sometime in the 1970s. The hosta that first impressed Mildred was 'Frances Williams.' With the characteristic candor of one who loves 'em and leaves 'em, Mildred says she would not give 2 cents for this hosta now.

 Mildred was soon to see another hosta growing in Ms. Fraim's garden that was the start of a longer-lasting affection. H. 'Tokudama Aureonebulosa' with its clear green and gold variegation and color contrast, was at or near the top of her list of favorites for many years, well into the 1990s. It inspired a number of fine Seaver gold hostas. Want to know her current loves? You'll have to ask her, since I'm not one to gossip.

Eleanor Lachman - Amherst, Massachusetts:   A favorite story I heard once from Eleanor and Bill Lachman involved their first sighting of H. 'Fluctuans Variegated' now known as 'Sagae.' This was on a tour in the early 1980s to Alex Summers' garden on Long Island. This was a rare and expensive $200 hosta at the time. It was a few years before Bill and Eleanor could afford or acquire it, but it opened their eyes to the presence and impact of what remains one of the most impressive hostas in the late spring and early summer.

(Those who are interested in not just hostas, but also the dirt in which they grow, should be sure to watch for the article "Hosta Hanky-Panky at First Look" which just might appear in a late June 2001 issue of whichever supermarket tabloid is the high bidder).

This was just one of the inspirations behind the Lachmans' building of what some hostarians such as Mark Zilis have called the premier hosta-breeding program of the 1980s and early 1990s. Bill Lachman was always quick to share his admiration for Eric Smith, whose 1960’s development of the Tardiana hosta line in England has continued to play a large part in the development of the modern hosta.

 

Glen Williams - Springfield, Vermont:   "The first hosta I saw which set my little heart a-twitching was 'Great Expectations' on the cover of Aden's book. I then found the same hosta in the Wayside Catalogue....and I was hooked. The first hosta I saw in the flesh (so to speak), which stopped me in my tracks, was 'Halcyon'. It was not labeled of course because I found it in a cemetery....a beautiful planting in front of a headstone. I didn't even know it was a hosta at the time. I stole a leaf and a serious gardener friend identified it as a hosta, not the name though. It was a year or more before I identified it."

 

Steve "Hosta Finder" Greene - Sudbury, Massachusetts:    "(this question is) testing this old brain.....I don't remember, BUT from Michigan two years ago, the hosta that is "to die for" in my opinion and everywhere I saw it I wanted it right away, is H. 'Warwick Comet'. Oh yes, back in 1992 I was doing garage sales in Acton and this fellow was moving and he gave me bunches of pots. Around back he had two of the biggest hostas I had ever seen which he didn't know anything about, but he had propagated both. I was in love with them. He gave me a piece of what turned out to be H. fortunei 'Aureomarginata.' The other one has become "misty" in my recollection and I have never seen one like it since. A large chartreuse leaf with a small darker center. I am sure  that one was a seedling, as it never lived up to expectations."

 

Carol Brashear - Woodbury, Connecticut:    (Carol's account describes the first of many odysseys she and her mother Rita took in search of hostas, hosta gardens and hosta people) "I would have to say that the hosta garden that REALLY hooked me on growing a hosta collection was Audrey Wood's garden in NC. It was 1991 and Reet and I were attending our first AHS convention in Raleigh. We had no idea what to expect and to this day I don't know what possessed us to attend an AHS convention, when Reet had NO hostas and I had a total of 6 varieties.

 But off we went to Raleigh where we boarded a bus with strangers and took this long ride out into the country. We stepped off the bus into what was described as a transformed cornfield.

 TRANSFORMED??!! CORNFIELD??!! Those 2 words used in the same sentence could never have prepared us for what we saw! This garden was an Eden. It was beautifully landscaped and appointed with garden art and it was a cool, cool haven in the heat of the South on a very HOT day!

 I was hooked for sure! And it helped that back home in Connecticut, hostas were the ONLY perennials that I had planted that would live and grow in my acid soil. We saw other beautiful gardens on that trip and met some wonderful people who were members of the NEHS, who invited us to come up to the Boston area to attend meetings. The rest is history as they say.


Audrey and I look for each other every year now at AHS conventions. It is a connection to hostas and hosta beginnings that I will never forget! Audrey is on tour again this year in NC at the 2001 AHS convention. I can't wait to see what magic she has weaved into her garden since I last visited. I know it will be beautiful and that seeing her garden will inspire another new hostaphyle to catch the hosta bug!"

 

Ran Lydell - Cooks Nursery/Eagle Bay Hosta Gardens, Dunkirk, New York: 

"That one is easy. I had been dealing in the basic hostas for years, without knowing there was so much more going on. Then in 1982, I was on a buying trip in Ohio, and saw a grower with H. 'Antioch' just sprouting in the greenhouse. I was knocked over! I made several more visits over the next weeks as they unfurled. That launched me. I never looked back."

 

Cornelia Holland - Franklin, Tennessee:    "He reminded me of my high school algebra teacher, reddish face, full of knowledge, a little abrupt, impatient to get on with his business... I'd never heard of him, but soon learned he had been entrusted to care for some of the original stock of azaleas from Asia, had overseen flowers for various Kennedy family functions, and was an exotic animals enthusiast. It was the summer of ‘93 (I believe) and I was on a tour of New England gardens sponsored by Horticulture Magazine. I had recently planted my first fragrant hosta, and had discovered there were also miniature ones. As he led us through the nursery, I saw my first H. 'Sum and Substance'. Gigantic! But, I also saw miniature hosta! "I'm collecting miniature hosta... can I get some from you?" "Later", he replied, brushing me off and continuing with the tour. "The exotic animal convention is going to be in Nashville this year..." Soon we began to talk, about Emu, Nashville, and I don't know what else... My mind was on those miniature hosta. The tour made its way into the greenhouses where we could make selections, and there, was the most beautiful hosta I had ever seen. H. 'Summer Music'. The only pot was marked "Stock - not for sale" I lusted! As we finished the tour he said, "now, I'll get you some miniature hosta" and I worked up the nerve to ask if he had any of that beautiful Summer Music. "That's my stock plant". "Yesss..." As folks were winding up paying for their purchases, he returned with several miniature hosta. And, a division of H. 'Summer Music'! That first plant died after several years of struggling in Middle Tennessee heat, but it has been replaced, because of the wonderful memories 'Summer Music' brings of meeting Allan Haskell."

 

Gerry Anderson - Harvard, Massachusetts:    Gerry's love affair with hostas started sometime around 1964, while Gerry was living on Long Island in New York. Just a few miles from her house was Mark Viette's nursery in Oyster Bay. There she saw in the display gardens impressive clumps of large-leaved named varieties of hostas. This was an element Gerry felt she had to add to her collection of perennials and daylilies. She still grows some of the hostas she bought from the Viettes over 35 years ago.

 

Bill Burto - Cambridge, Massachusetts:    Bill recalls that that the eye-opener for him was the blockbuster exhibit of forced hostas that Allen Haskell showed in the 1982 Boston Spring Flower Show. This display showed over 400 hostas, assembled from Haskell's own collection and from other nurserymen such as Kurt Tramposch (Weir Meadow) and Pierre Bennerup at Sunny Border in Connecticut.

 


 

Roy Herold - Carlisle, Massachusetts:   It was a visit to Bill and Eleanor Lachman's garden in the mid to late 1980’s to see daylilies that brought Roy into contact with their collection of cultivars and seedlings. After that encounter with the work the Lachmans were doing, Roy quickly began to assemble his own breeding stock and begin his own successful controlled breeding program.

Ernest Brodeur - Lowell, Massachusetts:   As a teenager in the 1940s, Ernie went to work for Elizabeth Nesmith in her noted Fairmount Gardens in Lowell. She was nationally known for iris and daylilies, but also carried the hosta introductions and collections of Frances Williams. Ernie soon was taken by the large clumps of Mrs. Nesmith's blue seedlings she was growing and evaluating. - These were mature cupped and crinkled clumps from what was known at that time as H. sieboldiana gigantea. Ernie soon had the hosta bug and was able to amass a collection in his own small yard of most of the hostas available in the trade by around 1950. For the past fifty years Ernie has continued to grow hostas and remain active in the societies devoted to iris, daylilies, and hostas.

Mabel-Maria Herweg - Dedham, Massachusetts:   Mabel remembers seeing a few hostas while living in Massachusetts and during a stay in Japan in the 1960s. She looked up Thomas Donahue when she returned to this country and obtained one of his piecrust-edged hostas. But it wasn't until she met Mildred Seaver and saw her hosta collection in the late 1970s that Mabel was hooked on hostas. She recalls that the only hosta she could afford to buy from Mildred on her first visit was 'Allan P. McConnell' but this was the first of many visits and acquisitions.

E. Flippo - Abington, Massachusetts:   Last, and least, the assembler of this piece recalls seeing a pristine specimen of H. 'Blue Umbrellas' on a cold snowy day in a Spring Flower Show display in the early 1990s, and late that summer visiting Allen Haskell's nursery for the first time. Several of the prime examples in the display garden, like H. 'Blue Shadows' and H. 'Hadspen Blue’ had to come home with the visitor that day.

The grasshopper also had to ask a question of the master. What special care would be needed to winter over these perennials planted near the first frost date? This drew a weary but knowledgeable reply. For the 1000th time, the nurseryman took pains to explain to yet another greenhorn in search of a green thumb that hostas are "cast-iron plants." Neither the plants nor my affections have yet to rust, though they have been left out in the rain and cold these many years.

May your loves similarly endure. Here's wishing you the brief exhilaration of fresh magic in a dusty world that love at first sight can bring, and the constancy, companionship, and maturing perennial relationships that long-lived friendships and loves, and even the hosta, may sometimes bring.

 

Ernie Flippo,

Abington, Massachusetts

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