The Year in Review -- FIRST LOOK 2

       We began looking at finding a place to hold First Look 2 towards the end of the Summer of 2001. The first meeting had gone pretty well and we were feeling pretty good about going ahead with our second one. We decided to get out and hit the hotel circuit once September rolled around and the gardens were finishing up. There was a local society meeting or two to attend, but the second half of the month looked like a good time to begin. We caught a little flack from the early planners about not announcing our date very early the first year, so we were determined to get the news out there before too much of the Fall passed us by.

       Then came September 11th. Afterwards, we were lost for a while with everyone else, waiting to see if more was coming from the people who did that. The events of that day had a special importance for Carol, as she flies for one of the airlines involved in the disaster.  Hosta in Focus was scheduled in the Washington area for early November. I went down there for it, not having missed one yet, and found it lightly attended. These kinds of meetings need a certain number of attendees to survive, as using these big fancy hotels is an expensive proposition. Unfortunately not enough of us made it to HIF that year, and it was the final meeting. With a certain sadness, we settled down to see how the war with the terrorists in Afghanistan progressed and if there would be any more attacks against us here in the US. We really didn't know if we should try to plan a 2002 meeting or not.

        By January, it was coming to decision time. We had to make ours before it was too late to go ahead with a meeting. We decided to take a chance and go ahead with it, hoping people would be ready for some entertainment by then, and that there would be no more attacks on American soil. It seemed almost every week the government was issuing terrorism alerts, so we were nervous every step of the way. If we had to cancel, it would empty our treasury and leave us unable to try again the following year.

       Fortunately, there were no more attacks, and we went ahead with our planning. We were lucky to have both the Chopko's and the Donn's take on the task of getting their fantastic (each in a different way) gardens ready for a tour. Because of them we chose a location in their area and had wonderful luck in finding the Sheraton Parsippany. It was a really great hotel as all who attended can attest. We got a great price from them for the day's activities, and the meeting turned out to be quite a bargain, considering what was given for the price.

       We had another auction in the Winter, this time splitting our take with the American Hosta Society (Our parent organization) and we took in an amazing $9400! Our heartfelt thanks go to all who participated. Without the extra income, we might yet go out of business. The share of the auction we gave to the AHS, together with the proceeds from their very own internet auction held in Fall '02, were enough to meet their budget goals for the changeover to three Journals a year.

       After the auction ended, we got down to business for real. Kent Terpening, an enthusiastic young hybridizer from New York signed on to our management team as Competition Co-Director. Not long after joining us, he landed us a great gift plant in 'Sugar Daddy' from QandZ Nursery. If you didn't get one at FL2, you had a hard time finding one elsewhere. Coupled with 'Afternoon Delight', our first gift plant, we're putting together a pretty nice collection of plants for those attending the meeting.

       Alttara Scheer joined our staff as Awards Chair and gave us a new logo. She took over and redesigned our ribbons also, coming up with a neat design in which you could tell the Best of Class ribbons apart by the colors on the rosettes. At the meeting itself, she doubled as Staff Photographer for the Competition and you can see many of the nice close-ups she got in the Photo Viewer. There's also a really cute picture of her in there too.

      Alex and Elaine Malloy again did a good job with arranging for the vendors (Alex) and getting things set up with the Judges (Elaine). Fortunately for all of us, they were able to get Bill Zumbar, the Master of the Minis himself, to come out and be our Keynote Speaker. Bill is also a very highly respected Master Judge and served on our Judging Panel.

      Things were getting pretty scary as the meeting approached, as many people were waiting until the last minute to sign up. We weren't really sure we'd have enough people until about two weeks before the meeting itself. I remember it getting to the 14-day point and we were still talking about canceling. A last minute flood of registrations came in and off we went to Parsippany. First Look was still going!

                                                                           Part 2 --- Hostas in Parsippany

      I loaded all the plants and other materials I would be bringing into my car and started north for the hotel on Friday morning. On arriving there, I found Ran Lydell and Bob Balitewicz already settled down and conversing about the long rides they each had out to the hotel. When I first started hybridizing, it never occurred to me just how much traveling would turn out to be part of the deal. It seemed to me that it was pretty much the essential stay-at-home activity. Boy did that turn out to be wrong. 

      Once you've gotten started down the road to making your own plants, the curiosity starts to build. What are the other hybridizers doing? What results are they getting? What kind of breeding stock do they have to work with? Do their plants look better than mine? If so, should I start working with some different parents so I can get my own distinct lines going? Do they know the answers to some of the problems I'm having? Would they consider trading some breeding plants to stretch out our gene pools? Would this be a good idea, or would it tend to make our results all look the same? 

      On and on. One question follows another. But where can I find the answers and advice I need on these matters? To me, one of the best things about First Look for a hybridizer is that it is THE place to come to see what other hosta-makers are getting from their own programs. It really is the "Future of Hosta" on display in the Competition Room. And there is much to learn from the people who've been hybridizing for a long time. 

       I didn't even make it to the hotel check-in desk before I found myself wrapped up in a discussion about driving hostas around in the Summer. Despite having a van with few windows and running the air-conditioning full-blast for the whole trip out from Indiana, Bob Balitewicz's plants suffered some real damage on the way to First Look 2. He had them there in the lobby of the hotel, and waxes were melted, and a remarkable tall gold sieboldiana-type seedling that he calls 'Big Yeller' was badly scorched. All that leaf damage would hurt his chances in the Competition, at least with the attendee voting, but there was little to be done about it. I'm sure Bob's plants would have fared better if he hadn't had such bad luck on the trip out. Unfortunately there wasn't much time to talk, and I had to get to work getting the meeting set up. Carol and Barbara Jones (our Head Judge) showed up with two SUVs full of meeting paraphenalia and we started carting it off to the various rooms and staging areas.

      Saturday morning was bright and sunny as First Look 2 got underway. We were really surprised by the number of entries showing up for the Best Plant in a Pot contest. There were so many that we didn't have enough tables laid out for them and the bigger ones were placed on the floor. Some really nice ones were there and can be seen in the pictures of it. A good number of entries also showed up for the Ugliest Garden Shoes contest, and for Hosta Oddities. The Hosta Lottaree was well-stocked with over thirty plants to be won, including an OS piece of 'George Smith' and some new varieties not available anywhere else yet. The Lottaree is run with incomparable style by Ray Link, who is fun just to watch. He kept up a steady patter of jokes and stories as he stirred the pot of tickets and let the buyers choose their own instant-winner envelopes. In a strange coincidence, Clyde Crockett won the piece of 'George Smith'. It was odd because Clyde is one of only a few people in the US to have that plant in his garden, and it had not survived its recent move to his new house. By pure luck he managed to replace a very rare plant he'd just lost a month before. 

       The Seedling and Sport Competition was packed once again with a great collection of plants. We were getting a very late start this season with the meeting all the way into July. To be honest, even the pampered and spoiled competition plants were looking a little sad, with burn spots here and there and waxless blues. This was the fault of our taking so long to decide to go ahead with the meeting and not choosing a date until after all the local societies had chosen their meeting dates. Next year we'll solve that problem by returning to a mid-June spot, so the plants should be gorgeous then. There were so many outstanding entries that it was hard to absorb it all. Mike Koller's plant was undoubtedly the star of the show, however. Everyone was talking about it, and I overheard several nurserymen and TC lab operators discussing it with Mike. Whoever ends up making a deal with him, it will be a pretty big seller, I think. We all wish him well. And we all want one when they become available. Some other really nice plants made their debuts at FL2, including winning entries from Bob Solberg and Jim Schwarz. Ran brought the most plants, so many it's surprising he fit them all into his truck and still had room for his sale plants for his vending table too. Once again, he got the most ribbons to take home. 

       Vending was great again this year, with new tables from Bob and Nancy Solberg's Greenhill Farm and Stan Megos' Variegated Foliage Nursery. From what I heard they all did pretty well, and attendees were able to buy some really new and rare plants. The Vending Room must have had well over a thousand plants for sale, and I found a few myself to take home with me. 

        Clyde Crockett offered a talk in our new experimental "Classes" Area on the garden and plants of Patsy Stygal. Patsy has one of the very best hosta gardens in the world, but she hasn't been on tour for quite a while, so many have heard of it, but few have actually seen it. It was taking on a sort of legendary status. Clyde took those who went to his mini-talk on a photographic tour of Patsy's garden, finishing with a number of slides of her own new seedlings, and it deserved its reputation completely. 

        Walter Cullerton headed up another session, this time a discussion group focused on companion plants, in another of our Classes experiments. Discussion was so lively and everyone so involved that they came late to the Town Meeting, nearly missing it.  

        By mid-afternoon it was time for the Town Meeting, this year run by Ran Lydell, who never seems to run out of steam. I was overseeing the tallying of the attendee voting in my role as Competition Director. From what I hear, it was an interesting and informative meeting once again. The auction was fun and there really were quite a few plants in there. After all the vending, the bidding in the auction was pretty tame, making it a good place to pick up some real bargains, unusual for an auction like this. The most exciting part came when a streaked plant of Bob Solberg's 'Ginsu Knife' spurred a bidding showdown between Carol Brashear and Wagner Thielens. Neither is much given to backing off of a plant they're after, so this looked like it was going to be a shootout. Back and forth it went $50...$100...$150...$200...$250...$300.......until Wagner finally relented after Carol's bid of $325 and she took the prize home with her. Van Wade, the year's much deserving Summers Award winner sent in two big boxes of his fantastic catalogs for our attendees AND another box of donations for our auction. It was a really generous donation from someone who couldn't make the meeting.

        The evening closed up with a talk and slides from our Keynote Speaker Bill Zumbar. Out here in the East we haven't heard much from Bill lately, and he was becoming one of those "Whatever became of ..." questions. Most of his plant introductions never really made it into the big tissue culture pipeline, so they are mostly treasured as collector plants. His most recent intro was given a big launch by Plant Delights. It's a beautiful white centered reverse of his 'Dress Blues' called 'Moon Struck'. Bill showed some slides of his own hybridizing efforts and added some more featuring unreleased plants from others in an interesting and informative talk about where we were going with hostas in the future. I haven't seen Bill in years, and it was good to see him again. 

        The long and event-filled day finally came to an end, and we meeting slaves set to the task of getting all our gear cleaned up and back into the vehicles. The entrants came and picked up their plants and within an hour or so it looked as if we had never been there. We joined a few late-night conversations with the likes of Ran (still not out of energy!), Chick Wasitis (still keeping that poor dog tied up, but letting her have a little food at least), Jim Anderson, and Eva Jones. Nobody stayed up too late because the morning held some truly exceptional gardens for everyone to tour.

        Most of us had breakfast at the hotel before heading out to see the gardens. I was a little worried that they would be in good shape because it was into July and many of my own plants were taking on that ratty, toasted mid-summer look. I don't know how these great gardeners do it, but both gardens looked as fresh as they must have in early June. Roberta Chopko had arranged with her favorite restaurant for sandwiches to be delivered for Sunday lunch, so most went first to the Donn garden with the intention of heading over to the Chopko's a little later. I don't think there was anyone who made it to either garden who failed to be seriously impressed with both of them. It was almost too much to see in one day. Mark Zilis took enough photos between the two gardens to write another whole book about hostas, finally running out of film in the end. Someone said he shot 42 rolls!

        First Look 2 added garden tours to an event-filled Saturday and became much better than it was before. First Look 3 will have to go a ways to top it, but we do have a few things in mind.........

        In closing, I want to say that one of the things I'm happiest with with the way First Look is evolving is that we have been able to stay a meeting in which everyone can feel comfortable. Some of the most famous people in hostas can sit with newcomers just getting interested and not feel they can't strike up a conversation. To me this was a very important concern. 

       Oh, I almost forgot...........How did my own plants fare in the Competition? Well if you can divide flower colors into cool colors and hot colors in the garden, you could describe the ribbons I managed to get as being all hot, very hot, so my plants were really hot that day. Of course hot isn't always good, but it beats not winning ribbons at all. None of my plants got into the cool colors this year. Oh, well, wait 'til next year! I'm going to win one of those darn Awards yet.

                                                            ........Bill Meyer