at First Sight
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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."
"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."
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.
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
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!
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.
Lydell - Cooks Nursery/Eagle Bay Hosta Gardens, Dunkirk, New York:
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.