New England Hosta Society


 According to its initial announcement The New England Hosta Society was formally organized in December 1982 after six months of discussion and planning by half a dozen Hosta enthusiasts. When I joined in March 1983 after seeing Allan C. Haskell’s magnificent display of hostas at the Spring Flower Show in Boston, it was still a small group but it had grown to 32 members. Among the names on the list that at that time meant nothing to me but soon began to play a large role not only in the local but also in the national organization were - to specify only a few - Paul Aden, Leo Blanchette, Eleanor Famosi, Leola Fraim, Eleanor Lachman, Mildred Seaver, Kurt Tramposch, Constance Williams, Philip and F. Henry Payne of Piedmont Gardens in Waterbury, CT.

  The first note of welcome from the treasurer, Carl Calderara, was typical in its friendliness; Carl had added in handwriting some of the names on the official Membership List, along with notifications as to who owned nurseries with hostas, or daylilies, or Japanese iris for sale.  He also noted that we had planned an Annual Meeting for June 25th, probably at the Case Estate, and it was there that I first met Carl - he wouldn’t tolerate the formal Carlton. It was the beginning of an unfortunately too short friendship, but until his death three years later in 1986 we did meet frequently, mostly at hosta meetings and in members’ gardens, including his own in Greenville, RI. Visits to Carl’s gardens, where we were always welcomed not only by Carl but also by his wife Edith and daughter Jane, were always a treat. The immaculate beds beneath the tall pines were filled with new and interesting hostas. I still think that the best clump of H. ‘Northern Lights’ I’ve ever seen was at the corner of Carl’s house some fifteen years ago, at the top of the steep incline down to the lake. One of Carl’s own seedlings that we all especially admired was a dense round clump of small blue heart-shaped leaves. Actually there were two similar clumps of the seedling, one he called ‘Alpha’ and the other ‘Beta’. Apparently he decided that there wasn’t that much difference between the two, for the plant that he brought to the Hemerocallis Society Auction in May 1984, was called ‘Albe’, a combination of both names. And this was the plant that Peter Ruh registered in 1991 simply as H. ‘Carl’ in his honor.

  The last time I saw Carl was a quiet afternoon in October 1985 when he visited me in Cambridge. After a quick tour of my hosta patches, we sat in my living-room and talked not just about hostas, about which he knew a great deal, but about some of his many other interests: rocks and gemstones, (on which he was an authority, he left his collection to Harvard’s Peabody Museum); music in general- Mozart was his favorite composer- and opera singers, especially Elizabeth Swartzkopf. It was a memorable afternoon, still fondly remembered.

  Carl Calderara was a doer; at hosta meetings he quickly tired of the politics involved in running the society, shunned the hassle, as he called it, and preferred to “drift into hanging closer to my own dirt piles and weedy gardens. They need me!” He was knowledgeable, interesting, and intelligent. And he was witty; during many of our local meetings, when we frequently stood in the back of the crowded room in the Red School House at the Case Estates, he commented to me irreverently on the proceedings. The comments, funny and memorable, are unfortunately unprintable. He was a good man, a good friend, and, fortunately, in a way he is still present, in Hosta ‘Carl’.

  With Carl Calderara as Treasurer and Mildred Seaver as Secretary, how could the New England Hosta Society not flourish? Mildred, now 88, though not as agile as she once was is as savvy as ever, and she is still nursing hostas in her kitchen windows over the winter. A telephone call this morning informed me that she is tending the new mini H. ‘Cat’s Eye’, a gift from John O'Brien (A cat lover, she asks how could she resist such a hosta?)

  Mildred and Carl have been the closest I suppose I have ever had to having hosta mentors. I found myself visiting Mildred’s garden in Needham Heights almost once a week for advanced hosta seminars in propagation, dividing, hybridizing, garden techniques- anything having to do with the world of hostas. Each time I arrived at 47 Rosalie Road there was a recently arrived group of the newest hosta introductions from her friends in the south or the mid-west, for she knew everybody connected with the world of hostas. She knew who was crossing what with whatever, and who was selling which hosta before it appeared in a catalog for sale. If Hideko Gowen had just brought back an interesting hosta from Japan, Mildred knew of it. If Handy Hatfield was going to introduce a new hosta from Kevin Vaughn, Mildred knew of it. She knew that Kurt Tramposch had such-and-such a hosta in stock so out we’d drive to his nursery along the banks of the Sudbury River in Wayland to see it. While we were there, she would point out the new hostas that were lined up in their pots beneath the vast expense of Kurt’s pine trees. A born teacher, she had an unending memory hoard of hostas.

  She was generous in her knowledge, and she was more than generous-she was prodigal- in her gifts. Invariably I would come home with a piece of some hosta that she wanted to share with me, or if not a hosta, some herbaceous plant that was new to me and that she wanted me to try. Many are the hosta seeds from her plants that I have started under lights in my basement each January. The latest are from her H. ‘Queen of the Seas’, a new as-yet-unregistered blue with crimped edges that won Best of Show (as H. QOH9702) at the most recent Indianapolis Convention Cut Leaf Show.

  Mildred’s garden, always known for its abundance rather than for its manicured look, continues to be filled with new seedlings that she carefully tends and also with the gift plants that still arrive in her mail from the newer generation of hybridizers. Where but at Mildred’s did I first see Ran Lydell’s interesting H. ‘Oh My Heart’ or Hans Hansen’s H. ‘Pandora’s Box’ long before they had gained their reputations? And who knows what Seaver hosta- perhaps H. ‘Queen of the Seas’- will soon gather the accolades that now accrue to her H, ‘Spilt Milk’ or H. ‘Lucy Vitols’, or H. ‘Sea Thunder’?

   We all hope that Mildred will live long and heartily, and that she will continue to produce the abundance of new hostas that she has for these past twenty years.


Bill Burto 

Cambridge, MA.