Diamonds in the Rough

By  Bill Meyer  


        Trying to remember all of what there was to see, hear, and take home from the inaugural First Look meeting last June is more than I can do. I do remember many little bits and pieces of the meeting, and I’ll try to relate some of them here.

         On Friday one of the more memorable arrivals was the van containing Alex Summers, Warren Pollock, Gwen and Johnnie Black, and Bruce Banyai, and driven by Kevin Walek. Arriving at the hotel seemed an anti-climax for them as all looked exhausted from the lively hosta discussions on the long trip up from Virginia and Delaware. The minutes of this rolling meeting would probably make for some fascinating reading, and we can only hope they will relate them to us. There’s something about Alex that the hotel people picked up on right away, and they moved to treat him as a visiting dignitary, despite his casual disguise.

             Jack and Gary, Naylor Creek’s Dynamic Duo, also arrived on Friday afternoon, in a truck they had driven all the way from Oregon. Understandably a little tired, they nonetheless unpacked enough plants to cover three of the large vending tables. One plant that Gary was anxious to show me was something really strange. If you were to say that you have a really exciting new sport of ‘Undulata Albomarginata’, most people would think “ho-hum, another ‘Undulata’”, and I have to confess I wasn’t expecting much, but these guys really know hostas. For Gary to say that, well, it must be interesting. He brought it out of the truck and it was the darnedest ‘Undulata’ I’ve ever seen or heard of. It had evenly wide margins, was oddly curly, and the biggest surprise came when he told me to feel the substance of the leaves. They were twice as thick as an ordinary ‘Undulata’, nearly as thick as a sieboldiana. It qualified for entry, so they entered it. After the Competition was over, I thought it had won Best of Class in Sport Class 1, where I had two entries myself, but the tally sheet I later received from the Judges showed one of mine had won. Unfortunately we didn’t get any really good pictures of it. They also brought a white-margined ‘Love Pat’ sport for display. It couldn’t be entered this year because it was only one division. 

            One of the earlier entrants at the Competition Plant Entry table was Ran Lydell, and he set the standard for a professional approach to bringing plants to First Look. He wheeled in a cartload of plants encased in the sort of paper cones that are used to ship plants like Poinsettias without breakage. As he carefully removed each one, his entries emerged largely unscathed from their long trip from Dunkirk, NY. One in particular, though, (a gold if I remember correctly) did not go back to its original shape before the Judges arrived. The leaves stayed turned-up at the tips for a really “unique” look. The Judges weren’t fooled by this and passed it by for an Award. Neither they or the attendees passed by some of Ran’s other plants, and he went home with two of the Named Awards.

            Little-known hybridizer and retired nurseryman Arthur Wrede, a former top azalea grower who once offered hundreds of different varieties, came to the meeting with a stunning collection of his red-petioled seedlings. Arthur has been concentrating on getting more red coloring into his breeding lines and was debuting some of the best he’s raised so far. His blue entry won Best of Class, and his gold almost did as well, but the competition in the greens was fierce and his fell just shy.  Arthur’s an unusual character, so if you see him, stop by and say “Hi” and start talking hostas with him. Few are as dedicated as he is to improving the genus. He’s been doing some amazing things with red petioles down there in Maryland.

            The plants displayed really well against the black cloth we placed on the stage risers. Now if we can just get the hotels to buy black carpets. I think they all buy their carpets from Gaudy Patterns International, who seem to offer an amazing variety of designs, each gaudier then the last. At least their wallpaper lines are a little less attention-getting. One of the funnier things was how nervous the hotel got about the vending room. They covered their precious GPI original with plastic so the messy plant people wouldn’t forever leave stains to mar its beauty. Also, they told us from the start that they had “More velvet rope than we would ever need” so we wouldn’t have to worry about that. As you can see in the photos from the Competition Room, this amounted to two sections of about eight feet each.

            For those who are veterans of hosta meetings in hotels, the idea of sharing the hotel with another group is something we are all familiar with. One of the more interesting recently was the 2001 Hosta in Focus meeting, which had a full Indian (Hindu) wedding replete with tents, elephant statues, and a groom arriving on a white horse led by a dancing bridal party. The Minnesota Convention featured the Swedish Singers and we got to hear some interesting music. WE got stuck with the Canadian hockey team of ten-year-olds running wild through the hotel and adding various screaming sounds to most of the proceedings. Their coaches deserve a lot of credit for their level of conditioning, because they never seemed to get tired. I think the adults lounging by the pool were their parents, at least they seemed the right age.

            One pleasant surprise came out of the blue when Dan Nelson and Preston Littleton showed up with a laptop, volunteering to catalog all the auction plants, of which we had quite a few. The auction was done Convention-style with various well-known hosta personalities taking turns at being auctioneer.

            I missed the Town Meeting because I had to stay in the Competition Room for the tallying of the votes, but from all I heard it was successful in what it was meant to be. We wanted a part of the meeting where attendees seeking knowledge would feel comfortable asking and participating in a public discussion. This sounds good, but I’ve never seen it work well in practice. Given the staggering amount of collective hosta knowledge spread among the more experienced attendees at First Look, the trick would be to establish an atmosphere where communication could work. Headed up by Warren Pollock, this turned into a solid success and, I think will become a regular feature of the meeting from now on. Good job there, folks.

            In the weeks before the meeting, it became apparent that my own plants were not going to be in very good condition for the meeting. For some reason this year, tree sap had gotten all over everything, making the blues in particular pretty unattractive. There is no way to clean blue leaves without making the soft wax look even worse, so I think I’ll need some kind of protection next year. So much for me setting any kind of example for others in the Competition. Fortunately we had Ran for that. He also contributed many of the photos in our Photo Viewer. If you’re thinking about entering next year, be sure to get some good pictures of your plants (I talked Carol into taking pictures of mine) for us to display there. If you’re wondering why the sections there have 28 buttons, well, that’s how many pictures we had. We used them all.

            Other plants of interest in the Competition were no less than four new ones from Alex Summers, our beloved founder. Time hasn’t even begun to dim his eye for a good plant and these were his best introductions of recent years. ‘Candy Dish’ in particular caught the eye of many and came in a close second for the Mildred Seaver Award. It also finished second, again close, for Best in Class. His stunning new blue ‘Wolf’ was somewhat overlooked, maybe because it was my plant of it and featured my decorative tree sap. The gold-margined ‘Honeysong Blue and Gold’ was on display, as was ‘Smokey’, a curly narrow-leaved upright sibling of ‘Candy Dish’ with good white backs. Arthur Wrede and I brought our own plants of these to enter for Alex as, in his well-known generosity, he had been cutting his plants every year to have some to give friends and his were smaller than ours.  It was an honor to be able to enter them for him.

            Newcomer to the National scene Kent Terpening brought a pair of interesting plants, one green and one gold, each showing interesting small corrugated leaves to the Competition and went home with a purple Best of Class for one of them. We do have pictures of these.

            Tri-State Hosta Society founder Walter Cullerton did a great job of hosting our Awards Ceremony, which had some truly memorable moments. Despite having limited time to prepare, he spoke well and helped us to understand the importance of the people we named those Awards for.

             Mike Shadrack ended the day with a truly first-rate talk about the late Eric Smith, which almost didn’t get off the ground due to no one seeming to have much idea about how the lights in the room worked. Sorry about that, Mike.

             Lastly I’ll face the question of what it was like as a hybridizer. As a fellow hybridizer and entrant and one showing plants publicly for the first time, I was very interested in what the others would bring. This, I think was my strongest feeling that day, once things settled down a little and I had a chance to think. Curiosity. Were my plants as good as the plants others brought, or was I barking up the wrong tree? We have to find that line in the sand between thinking our plants are the best thing since the wheel, and understanding how they really fit into the scheme of things. There was a story related by Glen Williams about an amateur archaeologist who sent his finds to the Smithsonian with regularity. All his finds were from his own “dig” in his own backyard. The letter from the Smithsonian regarding his theories about the small “pre-homo sapiens hominid skull showing the marks of a ravening carnivore”, was a bit deflating in calling the find a “Barbie head that was chewed by a dog” and in its refusal to carbon date the specimen. Not all that glitters…….

           I would be seeing many of the best plants produced by a wide range of my fellow hybridizers that represented perhaps half of those active in the U.S., and my own plants that I’d labored over for years would be among theirs awaiting impartial judgment. Suffice it to say that I felt alright when the ribbons were awarded. Sure, it would have been nice to win one of the Awards, but there’s always next year, and if any of the Judges need new eyeglass prescriptions by then, I’ll be happy to pay for them. (Just Kidding)


             So, that’s just a few of the memories I’ve taken away from our first meeting. There was much more there than I could relate here, and of course I wasn’t everywhere.