| It has come to light after decades of deliberate deception that
Florence M. Shaw was in
our opinion the most important hosta hybridizer to date. Her profound
influence on the development of the Genus Hosta was concealed by the
nefarious Paul Aden, who was until recently credited for nearly all of the
plants she created at her home in Weston, Massachusetts. There at the
garden she called Birchwood in the 1960's and early 1970's Mrs. Shaw
quietly made tremendous advances in hosta breeding, bringing into the
world many of the plants we know as classics today. While it may never be
completely clear, it appears that more than 90 of the plants Aden
registered as his own were in fact raised by Florence Shaw.
The impact of her work on the genus was staggering. Some of her plants remain among the most commonly sold today, and sports arising from them over the decades add even more to her legacy. While her 'Blue Cadet' has faded somewhat in popularity, its sport 'Blue Mouse Ears' has been one of the biggest commercial successes of the last few years. Her 'Sum and Substance' remains one of the most popular hostas of all time, and is considered a must for beginning collectors, and its numerous sports still fill gardens. Others of hers that still remain popular are 'Blue Angel', 'Sun Power', 'Love Pat', 'Little Aurora', and 'Flamboyant'. Some are mostly forgotten except for the sports they yielded like 'Shade Master', which gave us 'Summer Music', 'Summer Breeze', 'Dance With Me', and others.
Florence Shaw began as a collector of rare plants of all kinds, building a fabulous garden that was recognized by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and developed an interest in hybridizing irises. As her rare and unusual trees grew, the amount of shade at Birchwood increased and by the mid-1960's she had started working with the few hostas that were available at that time. When the American Hosta Society was formed in 1968, she became the 13th member. That was to become an unlucky omen for her. She passed away in 1974, the year that hosta registration began, and never registered any of the fantastic collection of plants her hybridizing had produced.
Only months after her passing, Aden began naming and registering her plants as his own, and thus began his career in hostas. Because the registrations for years listed her plants with Aden's name, she was mostly forgotten while Aden's fame exploded. AHS publications perpetuated Aden's claims of ownership by always putting his name together with her plants and even encouraging nurseries to use the registration data in their listings. Despite the revelations in the last few years that the plants were Mrs. Shaw's, there are still those in AHS political circles that deny it and believe they were actually Aden's.
Kevin Vaughn was fortunate enough to have known her, and her mentoring boosted his already high interest in hostas. He tells of a modest and quiet woman who didn't draw attention to herself and always sat in the back at meetings. She had a small circle of friends that included Leola Fraim, who also had one of the great gardens of the day.
One story she related to him concerned the plant that would come to be named 'Blue Angel'. She had shared a few pieces of that plant with friends and came to hear that a nursery run by Royal Bemis was offering a plant it called 'President Woodrow Wilson' that sounded very similar. Knowing she would be recognized if she went to buy one to see if it was hers, she asked Leola for a favor. Mrs. Fraim went to the nursery and purchased a plant of it and brought it directly to Florence. Sure enough, it was her plant. Later it was named 'Blue Angel' by Aden who registered it as his own in 1986.
Here at Region One we are happy to have been a part of restoring to Florence the legacy she had stolen by Paul Aden. This remarkable woman did more than anyone else to move the Genus Hosta out of the dark ages into the starring role in the shade garden that it has today. We hope that someday she will receive the recognition she deserves from the American Hosta Society as well.
The hosta world owes a deep debt of gratitude to Kevin Vaughn, who was also victimized by Aden, for his recollections of Florence Shaw's hybridizing efforts. It was only through his help that her true importance in the development of the genus came to light. Without his memories of the early 1970's, we might still be crediting Aden for all the plants he stole from her.