Hosta Journal”: The Crown Jewel
AHS has changed dramatically over the past twenty years in response to what is
little less than a national craze for hostas. What had once been a yearly family
gathering of a niche-group plant society of about a hundred aficionados, evolved
into a highly organized cross-section of gardeners with a nation wide network.
initial periodic publications (called bulletins) were bits of hosta lore, a
couple of serious current hosta "discoveries", and gossip about
individual members. Even before the explosion of membership, the Bulletin had
changed. Warren Pollock, an indefatigable new comer with an evangelist's zeal
had been named permanent editor. He personally upgraded its appearance and
regularity--and eventually its content as well. He even changed the name of the
publication to THE JOURNAL. But it was his addition of high quality color photos
that brought the most dramatic change. This probably did more to create respect
for the AHS, and interest in its activities, than any other single act. Prior to
this, the Bulletin was a rather pedestrian flier with a few articles of limited
interest, and poorly reproduced B&W pictures. Color pictures changed
everything. However, these photos did represent a considerable expense for the
society, as well as a bold step for a group with only a few hundred members. It
was a not an easy task for Warren to sell the AHS Board on the idea. But he did.
Overnight THE JOURNAL (as it was now called) became one of the most impressive
specialty gardening publications--it belied the small size of the membership.
initial photos weren't always first rate. Warren had to rely on a band of
eccentric gardeners (who thankfully remain just as lovable and
eccentric today) to take the pictures--people who posed no great threat
to Ansel Adams and weren't accustomed to publication deadlines. Consequently
Warren and his wife, Ali, were forced to take the majority of them.
were other photo problems too. In the rush to show examples of the various
cultivars, especially the newer ones, photos were often taken of immature plants
under adverse conditions. Back in 1986 I was a relatively new AHS member (and
lovably eccentric). With these credentials in hand, I called Warren complaining
that I had better pictures of the plants in my back yard than he was putting in
this premier publication. And I, of course, would be happy to send him some.
Crafty Warren told me of the new "POLICY" wherein THE JOURNAL would
only use pictures submitted by authors to illustrate their own articles. I told
Warren that this would virtually guarantee that he would get lousy pictures--he
wasn't likely to find many good writers who were also good photographers. Of
course he retorted that he would welcome an article from me together with my
photos. To this day I am not at all certain there ever was any such policy. I
rather suspect that it was a sly ploy to get people to write things for THE
he had me buffaloed. Not knowing anything about hostas I deemed worthy of
sharing, and having an impending due date, I wrote about my own yard. I had
noticed lately that it looked more like a "stamp collection" of
perfectly labeled and organized hostas, and less and less like a real garden.
Ultimately I prevailed upon an interior designer friend to help save it from my
Teutonic tendencies. Warren published the article--along with the pictures.
wily ploys like this, the canny Warren Pollock got articles not only from
pedestrian writers like me, but from truly learned gardeners and hybridizers.
The quality and content of the writing improved as the mix became richer.
Fortunately he never did limit the color photos to those submitted by authors.
constantly battled with the Board of Directors over the cost of THE JOURNAL, but
time and again Warren (with his color photos) won the day. And to this very day,
everyone looks at the pictures first ...and the minutes from the business
Warren's tenure, there was a short-lived period of chaos where one issue was
turned out by John Mason Allgood, who was basically a daylily man but one who
knew how to create a magazine. He lent his expertise while a permanent editor
after the 1988 AHS convention in Jackson, Michigan co-editors were named: Bob
Solberg and Carolyn Rushton. They contributed their considerable skills to what
was becoming the centerpiece of the American Hosta Society. And I firmly believe
to this day that the average member is far more affected by what The Journal
editor may do, than by any action the AHS President or Board may take. Among
other things Bob and Carolyn moved the publishing operation to Iowa where it
could be closely overseen. Bob, from North Carolina, is of course one of the
pillars of the hosta world now, but he was just a rising star then. He was
personable, persuasive, and cajoled newfound writers to send articles and
pictures from all over the country. Carolyn Rushton was a home gardener from
Iowa City, with an interest in journalism and had actually taken advanced
courses in the publication of periodicals. She brought professionalism to the
layout and design of THE JOURNAL. Carolyn worked with Linn Litho, a small
printing company in a tiny town outside Cedar Rapids, which specialized in
calendars. They were very good at doing color pictures. It was also one of the
only printing companies that would deal with a "housewife" who wanted
to publish a gardening journal. She enlisted the help of Frank Riehl, an Iowa
artist and gardener who has a keen eye for color. Frank practically lived at the
printing company overseeing the color pictures. He carried on this practice for
several years under the stewardship of Clyde Crockett. Frank’s presence was
certainly one of the reasons the color photos achieved such a high level of
quality. You have only to glance at a Journal from each year during this time of
flux to appreciate the evolution of the publication. *
in 1992 when we were trying to find methods of raising additional money to
support THE JOURNAL and its wonderful color photos, we investigated producing a
calendar using the pictures from past Journals. The society had already paid the
preparation for printing, which was the largest single expense. To our surprise,
the vast majority of the photographs were still of immature plants. The Journal
had continued in its zeal to show the newest hostas. Although they were superb
photos, they were not photos of mature four or five year old plants. By now
these once-"newest" hostas were no longer new at all. They were in the
mainstream, and our pictures of these plants as tiny specimens would do little
to sell calendars. It remained for Kevin Walek and his remarkable photo editor
Sandie Markland to end this oversight almost ten years later.)
Vic Santa Lucia named Clyde Crockett (a professor of law who had one of the
standout gardens at the 1989 AHS Indianapolis Convention) to succeed Bob and
Carolyn, Clyde inherited a system that was working well. Linn Litho employed a
person who would do the layout as Carolyn had, and Frank oversaw the pictures.
Clyde concentrated on enlarging the scope of THE JOURNAL, bringing articles from
members in Europe and Asia as well as establishing a small group of writers who
regularly wrote on a variety of subjects. Still, Clyde faced the problem that
had plagued all the previous editors: getting members to submit high quality
photographs to THE JOURNAL. He, too, ended up taking many of the pictures
himself. Fortunately Clyde proved a good photographer and with the help of Frank
Riehl, the wonderful color pictures continued. However, there were some problems
with getting THE JOURNAL published on schedule.
Litho's prime business was calendars with color photographs, and calendars must
be out by late fall. As a result the fall issue of THE JOURNAL was pushed to the
back of the line and seldom came out until January. This was the source of a
number of complaints from our addicted
membership. In addition, the company was not "computerized."
That meant all the articles (most of which were now being generated on computers
and mailed on disks) were being retyped and proofed again at Linn Litho --at our
expense. The costs were variable and unpredictable. The publication was being
done virtually on a cost-plus-a-small-margin basis. Nonetheless, Linn Litho
worked so well with Clyde that the business was kept there until he retired as
editor. The amazing and dynamic Kevin Walek succeeded him.
Walek was an eager and aggressive young hosta buff from Washington, DC, whose
star was rapidly rising--but like most young and successful people he championed
changes--lots of them. As a result he was controversial. And anytime there is
change.....there is also resistance.
It was going to be difficult to follow
was more than a little worried about this when I asked Kevin to be the next
editor. I told him I would be a co-editor for the first edition to share
(hopefully take the brunt of) the "heat" when it came. To keep costs
and production under control, production of THE JOURNAL was moved from Iowa to
Minneapolis. There we found (the also amazing) Janet Mills. She is a
stay-at-home mom who had experience in small edition desktop publications and
was looking for some additional business to conduct from her home. Like Kevin,
she is high-energy and very "computerized". They hit it off
immediately. Kevin and Janet decided to go digital immediately with
everything--color pictures and all. This seemed like an awful lot of radical
changes to be making at one time, and I kept telling a very confident (and
competent) Janet that this could potentially break us. The first issue under a
new editor would be examined very critically--more so if multiple changes were
made. If there was the slightest decrease in the quality of the color pictures,
or a production snafu were to come about, we would be in deep weeds..... to say
I didn't know if I had enough political capital to persuade the AHS Board
to let us try another issue. My lovable eccentric self was seriously worried.
All my worry was for naught. Kevin and Janet
were a magnificent team from the very first. Kevin is a dynamic guy who can't
stand any sort of delays, so they would e-mail articles and edits back and forth
a couple times a day, in stark contrast to the snail mail and hard copy system
we had been using (Clyde, who is not alone, had never learned to type, and sent
handwritten comments and articles to be typed by others).
Janet grows no hostas at all (and wisely has avoided joining the AHS), she has
proved nothing short of a genius at layouts and color pictures. A highly skilled
amateur photographer, she works for Kevin (rather than the printing company),
and personally scans and adjusts the color of each photograph. She puts THE
JOURNAL out for competitive bids from several carefully selected (for quality)
printing companies. The result is a Journal mailed on schedule, on higher
quality paper, and with a better photographic caliber than ever. And, at a lower
cost for the whole. Beyond this Janet, an English major who attended Oxford for
post graduate studies, does yeoman duty proofing THE JOURNAL articles and ads.
Kevin and Janet clearly didn't need me, and after one issue I was bumped from he
might think that this is the culmination of THE JOURNAL, and it may be. There
will be a few more refinements, but it is pretty much at the apex of gardening
magazines....and will stay there.
Each new editor has made unique contributions and brought change.
And the change has always been for the better. There is a deep and rich
pool of talent in the Society and we just begun to tap it.
will be changes and possibly dramatic ones; and probably many of us old timers
won't care much for the idea of altering something that is working so well. But
it is true in life (and in gardening) that you can't "stand pat”. Try as
you will, Mother Nature won’t let you. A thing must continue to grow and
change or it will wither and die. Already we are seeing the herald of the next
communication advance. The internet has allowed the creation of hosta
robins......a short cut to the new communities of hosta enthusiasts. A new hosta
robin was formed by Clyde where members exchange digitized photos of hostas.
Photos that may have been taken just minutes before in the gardens, are being
sent to hundreds of other people instantly. Computer wizards like Bob Axmear
have emerged and established incredible web pages, even an on-line hosta library
with thousands of pictures.
Janet Mills’ husband Jeremy, another computer guru, recently gave me
some issues of The Journal on a CD. I can foresee a day when we can send it over
the internet with dozens of photographs and without the huge printing costs. (I
would favor always maintaining a hardcopy version, but then I didn't want to go
"digital" with THE JOURNAL either). One thing is certain, things are
going to change and we need to continue to find the people with the talents to
keep us at the cutting edge.
Louis Park, Minnesota