Dr. Warren I. Pollock
Wilmington, Delaware USA
What’s new in the vast world of hostas? What’s
exciting from the hybridizers? What new sports and chance seedlings have been
found? What’s unique in leaf colors, patterns and textures? What eye-catching
cultivars might be offered in the near future?
To get a first look at the behind-the-scenes
activities in the seedling and sporting arenas, a new and novel American Hosta
Society (AHS) regional meeting was held this year – appropriately called FIRST
LOOK. Its specific mission was to display not-yet-introduced hosta clumps and
determine which ones ranked high by a panel of judges, as well as which ones the
attendees liked best.
FIRST LOOK is the brainstorm of William (Bill) Meyer, a New Jersey
resident. He has a very keen interest in hostas, continually investigating and
analyzing what’s in the market place, what’s hot. He has the reputation of
visiting every nursery and garden center within a three-hour drive of his home
scouting for unusual hosta variants, especially those with streaked leaves, of
which he’s amassed a fairly large collection..
Bill Meyer, and Carol Brashear, who lives in Connecticut and perhaps is best
known for her superb color photographs in The
Hosta Journal, the AHS’s twice-a-year publication, are the principals that
organized the FIRST LOOK meeting on Saturday, July 9th, at a downtown
Stamford, Connecticut, hotel.
AHS Region One, for which Carol has been the director for several years, sponsored FIRST LOOK.
The AHS is divided into eight
U.S.-Canadian geographic regions. Region One comprises the New England states,
which include, for example, Massachusetts and Connecticut. New York, New Jersey
and Pennsylvania are also in AHS Region One. Most FIRST LOOK attendees were from
Region One, but there was also a handful from Region Two, which includes
Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
Exhibiting and judging new seedlings and
sports has always been an important part of an AHS Hosta Show (formerly called
Cut-Leaf Show) at each AHS National Convention and at many regional and local
hosta society meetings. Seen in the exhibition rooms there are two leaves for
each unregistered entry in the neck of a bottle, held tightly upright with
cotton wadding. These bottles, which vary in size depending on the size of the
leaves, are displayed row-after-row on long tables according to the show
schedule, with separate sections for solid-colored and variegated leaves and
with different classes within the sections for leaf colors and patterns. Ribbons
are awarded based on a point scoring system (which I’ll describe shortly).
What Bill Meyer and many others have noted
and commented on for many years is such a competition does not give a truly
satisfactory look or comprehensive appreciation of the cultivars entered. That
what happens is that exhibitors carefully scan the new seedlings and sports in their
nurseries and gardens, picking out for each plant only the best looking and
unblemished two leaves that have the most similar appearance. That these leaves
may be the only two on the plant that look alike doesn’t matter. That the
plants may have many solid-colored leaves and the leaves exhibited are
variegated doesn’t matter either. Further, that the clump(s) may be of
immature size and only a single division with juvenile leaves not having mature
characteristics doesn’t matter also. But
perhaps the biggest fault with exhibiting two upright leaves is it doesn’t
give any clue, or certainly not much of one, as what the actual clump looks (or
would look) like growing in a garden.
So Bill promoted the idea of having a competition in which entire clumps
would be shown and judged. And he formulated a new set of show rules, some
being: All plants must have at least two divisions, all of an identical type;
for example, a plant that is two divisions, one with green leaves and one with
variegated leaves, cannot be entered. Plants can only be entered in an ordinary
(plain) black plastic pot. Pots are exhibited on one foot- (0.3m-) high risers
(platforms), allowing the entries to be viewed and judged as if in the ground.
Platforms are covered in black cloth to give a uniform dark background along
with the black containers. (Tables at AHS Hosta Shows are covered with white
cloth, often not a very flattering color for showing off hosta leaves.)
Other rules allowed exhibitors to decide
which side of their plants looks best and is to be viewed by the judges. If the
underside of the leaves or the petioles’ coloring is an attribute to be
considered, a paper clip can pin back one leaf.
Judging is done two feet (0.7m) from the platforms, simulating how the
plants would most likely be viewed in the garden. (At AHS Hosta Shows, judges
often get their noses within an inch (2.5cm) of the leaves for a microscopic
analysis of their qualities [read: minutest pinhole, blemish or speck of dirt].)
FIRST LOOK had a different point scoring
system than at AHS Hosta Shows. For unregistered seedlings and sports at an
accredited AHS Hosta Show, the maximum points are:
|Distinction||25||At FIRST LOOK the points were:|
|Color and Pattern||20|
|Form and Size||15||Uniqueness||30|
|Condition and Grooming||5||Leaf Form and Texture||20|
What FIRST LOOK wanted was for clumps to be
exhibited with all their leaves au naturel, as they would
customarily look in a garden. Admirably, FIRST LOOK was not intended to be a
There also was no scoring category for
Labeling. I’ve never understood why there is such a category in AHS Hosta
Shows when the Classification Clerks’ responsibilities are to assure entries
are correctly classified and labeled
before being entered in the show. For labels, FIRST LOOK simply used code
numbers, though sports entries were also marked with “Sport of ...” to
Color and Pattern were each given 20 points.
Form and Size along with Texture were regrouped into Leaf Form and Texture with
20 points total. Substance was down graded
from 15 points (at an AHS show) to 10 points. And instead of the term
Distinction, Uniqueness was used and given the lion’s share, 30 points.
I was one of the sports judges, so I can
recite how the judging was done for these entries. I assume the seedlings were
judged the same way.
The judging methodology used has many names, the most common probably is
“deductive scoring.” Each judge studies the clump and decides how many
points should be taken off for each category, then adds up the total points
deducted and subtracts it from 100. A consensus of the judges determines what
score the entry receives. At AHS Hosta Shows there must be at least three
accredited AHS judges in each judging group or panel; often a dozen groups are
needed to judge a single show. At FIRST LOOK there were two groups, each of four
judges, one for sports and the other for seedlings.
For most of the sports entries, usually only
a few points were deduced for Color, Pattern, Leaf Form and Texture, and
Substance. Most of these entries, as I recall, had no more than 9 total points
deducted for these four categories. Had it not been for Uniqueness, they would
have received a Blue Ribbon (First Place), which requires 90 points or higher,
and those with 95 point or higher would qualify for Best in Class. From the Best
in Class, the overall sports winner is chosen.
Just prior to judging, a special briefing
session, chaired by the show’s Head Judge Barbara Jones, was convened for the judges. It was
intended for them to become acquainted with the FIRST LOOK show rules and to get
“warmed up” as to what might be expected in judging entire clumps.
Definitions of Unique and also Distinct taken from several American dictionaries
and other references were read and discussed. My dictionary gives these- Unique:
being the only one of its kind, solitary, sole; also, being without an equal or
equivalent, unparalleled. Distinct: not identical, individual, discrete; also,
not similar, different, unlike.
As it turned out for the sports, the point
deductions for the Uniqueness category mostly determined which plants received Blue
Ribbons and Best in Class. From my first hand knowledge, I can say that the
judges awarded the top prize – the overall winner – to the sport that had
the most unique and different variegation among all the sports in the
competition. Since the judges were pretty knowledgeable of what’s in the
current marketplace, it’s probably safe to say they selected a hosta with
leaves that are unique and different among the thousands in today’s vast hosta
I now need to mention the four awards that
were established for FIRST LOOK. They were named to honor those from AHS Region One “who led
the way with their pioneering work in the genus”:
and Eleanor Lachman Award for the best seedling selected by the judges as the
best seedling overall in the competition,
Vaughn Award for the best sport overall as chosen by the judges,
Seaver Award for the best seedling chosen by the FIRST LOOK attendees, and
Williams Award for the best sport overall chosen by the FIRST LOOK attendees.
Each award winner received a trophy and also
$300 (roughly £200) cash,
intended to cover expenses. The trophies were copper birdbaths, about a foot
high and two-foot square. Several local hosta societies and AHS Region One
sponsored them. Three prominent hosta nurseries and AHS Region One donated the
cash awards, which totaled $1200 (about £800).
FIRST LOOK was the first time that cash
awards were given at a hosta show. In early 2001, over $6000 (some £4000) was
raised by AHS Region One from an auction of rare and unusual hostas held on the
Internet to help pay for the meeting’s expenses.
Both the Kevin Vaughn and Frances Williams
Awards went to Alex Malloy of North Salem, New York, for H.
‘Alley Oop’, a sport of H.
‘Fortunei Aoki’ (aka H.
‘Aoki’). Most interestingly, both the judges and the attendees selected the
same sport. The judges’ made their selection first and the attendees did not
know of it when they were voting. The winners were announced at the evening’s
banquet in an Academy AwardsÒ
style: The envelope please; the winner is.... He came twice to the dais, going
away with a total of $600 (roughly £400).
Alex tells me the origin of the name H.
‘Alley Oop’ is his third grandchild named Alley. But he quickly adds there
are others too. Alex G. Malloy is the author of a popular book now in its 8th
edition, Comic Values Annual 2000: The
Comic Books Price Guide. “Alley Oop” is a comic strip that originated in
the 1930s and still is being drawn and syndicated today. The main character,
Alley Oop, rides a pet dinosaur in a prehistoric land and is time-transported to
the present for various adventures. “I thought the comic strip has the same
expression as the hosta,” he says. (I’m not sure how to interpret this other
than the leaves have a “Jurassic Park” look.) “Alley Oop” is also the
name of an early ‘60s song, which Alex says “gives a fun expression of the
plant in my eyes.”
A photograph of H.
‘Alley Oop’ taken by Alex Mallory is in this journal.
If you have access to the Internet, I suggest you click on www.hostalibrary.org,
then A, Ac-al, and finally Alley
Oop. Shown are three pictures taken last year. The first, an excellent photo by
Carol Brashear, is of a single leaf and probably depicts the “idealistic
pattern” for this hosta, the variegation that every H. ‘Alley Oop’ leaf is assumed to look like. The other two
photos show the non-uniform variegation of young, single-division leaves. (Note:
These are the photos in the Hosta Pictue Library as of August 2001.)
At least for judging sports, what FIRST LOOK
revealed, in my judgement, is that there is something missing or askew with the
point scoring system. Namely, it does not take into account the key criteria
most of us consider in judging a hosta when we first see the plant in a nursery,
catalogue photograph or flower show stand such as at Chelsea or Hampton Court
What are the missing criteria? Simply they
are the hosta’s overall aesthetics
and garden worthiness.
Is the hosta attractive? Is it pleasingly
distinctive? Is it aesthetically
pleasing (I think that’s an oxymoron)? Would you pay $, £ to acquire it
for your own garden?
Also, is it a good doer? Simply, does it
grow? Does it have vigor? Does it need to be babied? Does it need a special
location in the garden?
(There are a few hostas, though, not noted
for being good doers yet are highly coveted. It’s been said that nurseries and
gardeners who have had trouble growing H. ‘Great Expectations’ would have thrown it into the dustbin
long ago, if it were not for its mature leaves being so boldly handsome.)
Other considerations: Is the hosta a good
multiplier? Is it going to remain a single division for years, as the H.
‘Tokudama’ types do?
What FIRST LOOK revealed is a plant can
receive the most total points for Uniqueness, Color, Pattern, Leaf Form and
Texture, and Substance, yet perhaps not be aesthetically pleasing and not garden
Bob Solberg (Green Hill Farm in North
Carolina), whom many of you probably know as the introducer of H.
‘Guacamole’ (large open mound having golden leaves with dark green margin
and fragrant near-white flowers), publishes a chatty tabloid-size
catalogue/newspaper called The Green Hill Gossip. In the January 2001 issue, he wrote an
article titled “What makes a good hosta?”
“It is hosta color that catches our eye first,” he states. “A good
hosta attracts the eye with color and then seduces us with its other charms.
Color is only the beginning. How does the hosta display that color?
‘Accessories’ are important. And accessories naturally lead to distinctness.
A good hosta is recognizable.”
Bob goes on to explain the 10-foot (3m)
rule, “If I cannot identify a hosta from ten feet away then I do not want
it,” and the police lineup test, “If I cannot pick that hosta out of a
lineup of similar ones then I do not need it.” As an example he cites the ease
of identifying H. ‘Sum and
Substance’ from a car or coach window traveling 45 miles per hour (72 km/h)
past a garden. (Actually this is the 20-foot (6m) rule, which is best used for
large hosta clumps.)
There is some thing critically missing in
having unique or distinctive as the paramount consideration in judging new
hostas. It is the critical modifier pleasing
or pleasingly. Somehow it seems pleasingly
was not considered or at least not considered sufficiently in judging sports at
How do judges determine how
hostas have this pleasingly
characteristic? What benchmarks or standards should be used? What are the
paradigms? Indeed, I wonder if pleasingly
unique or distinctive can be
quantified? Is pleasingly unique or
distinctive too subjective? One is reminded that “beauty is in the eye of
The problem, as I see it, is that pleasingly
unique or distinctive is a combination, sometimes complexly interwoven, of
vital attributes: clump form and leaf color, pattern, texture, substance, etc.
– a plant’s entirety. There are occasions for which the petiole coloring is
an important attribute too. And there are occasions for which the flowers are
important, but this character is not considered at hosta leaf shows.
‘Alley Oop’ is unique or distinctive. And indeed, it was the most unique or
distinctive hosta sport in the competition – the overall winner. There is no
doubt that the leaf variegation is uncommon, maybe wild, perhaps even weird. (I
often refer to such leaves as “kinky” and the hostas as “kinkies.”) But
what is as important is --- do you like the variegation? Is it pleasingly
unique or distinctive to you?
Does H. ‘Alley Oop’ meet the 10-foot rule? It might. But even so,
unless you’re an avid collector that needs to acquire every new hosta that
comes on the market and price is no restriction, do you want (or need) this
hosta in your garden?
How commercially viable is H.
‘Alley Oop’? Should any commercial aspect – albeit perhaps small – even
be considered in judging the show’s entries?
Now on to the other two awards for
seedlings. The Bill and Eleanor Lachman Award and the Mildred Seaver Award went
to Randell (Ran) Lydell of Cooks Nursery Eagle Bay Gardens in Dunkirk, New York
– but not for the same hosta. Like Alex Malloy, he twice came to the dais,
leaving $600 richer.
I mentioned earlier that I was not involved
with judging seedlings, so I have no first-hand knowledge of the winners.
Accordingly, I asked Ran for descriptions and he kindly supplied them:
“The Lachman Award,” he said, “was for
a small hosta. It has ovate leaves about 3 inches [7.5cm] long and 2 inches
[5cm] wide. They are randomly patterned in green and blue.
The plant has a very low profile, 3 inches high, and is (so far in four
years) less than 12 inches [0.3m] wide. Blooms are very light lavender and (so
far) on 6- to 7-inch [15 to 18cm] tall scapes.
“The history of this plant may interest you. During the early and
mid-nineties, Pete Ruh [the highly knowledgeable hosta icon and collector in
Chesterland, Ohio] and I made several trips to Canada looking for the plants
that had been distributed from the "break-up" of the hosta collection
owned by Henry Landis of Toronto after his death. This included some things that
were quite rare. We found some of these plants in a greenhouse behind a small
nursery north of Hamilton, Ontario.
“After two trips there the owner finally
agreed to let us purchase a few of the plants. They had been marked with plastic
tags that were in poor condition. I spotted a streaked one that I could make out
‘Flamboyant’ on it. As this hosta was very hard to get, I included it in the
purchases. When I got the plant home and pulled the tag, it said “Flamboyant X
seedling” and was assigned a number. It turned out to be a numbered Lachman
“breeder.” I called Eleanor and asked about it, but she no longer had the
plant. A cross with this plant and H.
‘Hadspen Blue’ resulted in my “breeder” H.
‘Crazy Quilt’. A cross with H.
‘Crazy Quilt’ and H. ‘Blue
Moon’ resulted in the Lachman Award winner.
“This hosta will carry the name H.
“The Mildred Seaver Award,” he
continued, “was for a medium-sized plant.
It has somewhat cupped and heart-shaped leaves. The leaves, with very
distinct points, are margined in a blue-green, with a secondary area of bright
green and very light cream centers. The
center area makes up about half of the leaf surface. The plant gets to be 12
inches high and about 30 inches [0.75m] wide.
“It is a stabilized selection from a streaked H.
‘Candle Glow’ seedling that resulted from open pollination. The seed source
was a trade with Van Wade [whose extensive hosta gardens and nursery in
Bellville, Ohio are legendary].
“I’ve named this hosta H.
Both of Ran Lydell’s winners meet the
criterion of pleasingly unique or
distinctive. They are hostas I’d like in my garden. I’m sure he’s
started to propagate both H. ‘Jump
Start’ and ‘Superfection’, perhaps by tissue culture (micropropagation).
Having won these coveted FIRST LOOK Awards, no doubt they will initially command
upmarket prices – and perhaps rightly so.
Much, much more can and probably should be
written about judging at a FIRST LOOK meeting, but I’ll stop now.
Before closing this subject, I must mention
that the after-dinner speaker was BHHS Chairman and Bulletin
Editor Michael Shadrack. He gave a most interesting, well-prepared slide
presentation on the late Eric Smith, the U.K.’s premier hosta hybridizer who
bred the classic, blue-leaved Tardiana Group hostas, of which H.
‘Halcyon’ is perhaps the best known worldwide. Mike will be giving this
lecture to other hosta groups in the States in 2001 and 2002. If he’s not
scheduled to present it to the BHHS, I suggest you get him to do so. I’m sure
you’ll greatly enjoy the facts and stories he’s uncovered and the sites
FIRST LOOK 2 is planned for 2002. I’m told
considerable changes will be made including judging. If I’m a judge there, it
will be interesting to compare the two meetings.
Excerpted from an article titled "Letter from America" by Dr. Warren I. Pollock in the "British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society Bulletin 2001."