'Lakeside Mom'*

 While on a daylily tour in 1983 she fell in love with a hosta garden and decided to add one to her own gardens. In 2001, less than 20 years later, she has completed 81 new hosta registrations and her wonderful 'Lakeside' hostas are favorites with hosta growers around the world.

 After several years of frustration trying to establish her hosta garden with existing popular hostas, Mary Chastain of Lakeside Acres, Ooltewah, Tennessee, decided she needed to develop special hostas that would survive and thrive in the difficult southern climate and hard red clay of her Eastern Tennessee garden. It was and still is Mary's goal to create hosta varieties that will withstand the southern climate. When choosing plants to register, Mary also looks for vigor, substance and distinctive appearance through color, leaf finish or growth patterns.

 Mary's first registered hosta was the fortunate result of her attempt to encourage growth in three tiny tissue culture plants. Always in a hurry to achieve results, Mary applied an over generous dose of high nitrogen fertilizer. This caused crown rot and killed the plants. However, a few weeks later one of the potted plants put forth tiny new growth; the H.'Piedmont Gold' had turned into a lovely sport with a soft green border. Mary, who had been given a life membership in the American Hosta Society by her husband Roy, registered it as H. 'Lakeside Symphony'.

 Registered in 1988, H. 'Lakeside Symphony' was first exhibited in a hosta show in Atlanta in 1989. It won the Grand Championship Award and was also a winner at the AHS National Convention show in Indianapolis that year. Suddenly the demand for this new hosta far exceeded the supply.

 When she set out to develop hostas that would do well in Southern growing conditions, Mary had no idea that her new plants would grow even larger in northern gardens. Each northern Convention sends her home lamenting the fact that her plants growing there are so much larger than she can grow them!

She was amazed to read plant sizes of her hostas as recorded by Mark Zilis in his new book The Hosta Handbook, 2000.

 

Every year Mary grows thousands of new seedlings on racks she designed and Roy built, which are adjustable to meet the needs of the ever- changing plant sizes. These are in a special room added to their home after the former "plant room" outgrew its location in her utility room.

 Mary mastered computer skills to handle the many details of her growing hybridizing and hosta sales business. Her son, a computer expert, keeps her equipment updated and keeps Mary busy learning new systems to cope with her expanding needs. A retired fourth grade school teacher, graduate of the University of Tennessee, Mary spends more time and works harder at her hybridizing "hobby" than many employed people do at their full-time jobs.  

Mary has also become a fine photographer. You can see the results of her artistry online in the Hosta Library, on her web site <www.gardensights.com/lakeside> and in the pages of the AHS Journal. She is also a Master Judge for the American Hosta Society.

 Much in demand as a speaker for plant societies, Mary is generous in sharing her knowledge. She is a prolific contributor of articles to the AHS Hosta Journal, many local and regional publications, and the online Hosta Robins. She also organized the Chattanooga Regional Hosta Society and served as its president for five years. She is a popular teacher at the Great Lakes Region Hosta College in Ohio and the Dixie Region Fall Seminar.

 

 

Raised on a farm in the Tennessee Valley, Mary saw the TVA use part of their farm for Lake Chickamauga, in the system created by dams on the Tennessee River. Lakeside Acres, from the original family farm, is a seven acre property bordering the lake which contains Roy and Mary's home, gardens and hosta business.

Roy and Mary met on a bus going to Knoxville to the University of Tennessee from which they both graduated. Roy is a retired high school teacher. They married in 1950 and lived on a UT farm while Roy worked for the University of Tennessee doing experimental work in the field of animal husbandry and earning his master's degree in science. Mary worked for the state, teaching craft skills to handicapped people in 12 counties around Knoxville. Their son Roy (Jeff to his family), who was born in 1954, had an allergy to animal dandruff, so working with animals was no longer an option for Roy.

 When they returned to Ooltewah, Roy attended the University of Tennessee Chattanooga for postgraduate work in science. Mary designed, and the two of them did much of the construction of their present home. Over the years Roy and Mary have grown many different plants. Mary relates, ďAt one time over 500 varieties of tall bearded iris covered the hillside overlooking Lake Chickamauga. A few years later 100,000 daylilies blanketed the eastern slope below the house." At the same time Roy had a thriving fruit orchard, with a self-serve fruit stand for the public. They also tried ferns, Japanese maples and many other companion plants. The hosta business is the one that is still going strong!

Mary makes many crosses each year and says timing depends on the weather. When daytime temperatures reach 85 to 90 degrees, it is difficult to get seed to set. Hoping for success, she sometimes moves hostas into her air-conditioned plant room. She often does 70 to 100 crosses a day. To keep early scavenging bees at bay, each evening Mary covers plants that will be ready for pollination the next morning. To make sure the pollen will be ready for early morning crosses, she collects the pollen in the evening and it ripens inside overnight.

Since the seeds often sprout in the pods, Mary starts planting in October and begins culling at the one leaf stage. Presently, from a beginning of 5000 or 6000 seedlings in the fall, she will cull over 50% and have 2500 in the spring. Culling continues as the seedlings are moved into flats of 72 cells, then into 4in. pots. By fall the count may be down to 1500. Eventually the best ones go into the garden, but Mary continues to hold promising seedlings in pots, sometimes more than 10 years. Like others before her, she has found that it can take many years for some of the best plant qualities to develop. In addition to this work with her evolving seedlings, the Chastains also spend one or two days a week shipping.

Not all of the plants Mary has registered are available for purchase. Some are being held for increase, others are in tissue culture. Each of them has some special quality that Mary has recognized and developed. Their variety is astonishing and very rewarding to gardeners.

Mary has many other talents. She is a fantastic cook, and she did beautiful china painting. Her home is a skillful mix of antique furniture, Roy's preference, and Conant Ball mid-twentieth century classic furniture, her choice. Plus lots of comfy recliners in the family room! Her sense of humor is irrepressible. 

Mary's skill at choosing perfect hosta leaves and potted plants to enter in AHS Hosta Shows is legendary. She has a major collection of hosta show trophies from 1989 to the 13 she collected at the AHS National Convention Show in Minnesota in 2000. Which has led her to say that she will not exhibit at the AHS National Convention in 2001. But it is always possible that she will spot a perfect leaf of a newly developed 'Lakeside' hosta to accompany her to Raleigh in June! 

* also a streaked hybrid seedling H. 'Lakeside Mom', registered by M. Chastain (ONIR) in 1999

 

Sally Murphy

Indianapolis, IN

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