Letter From First Look 4


   I attended  First Look 1 in 2001 and wrote about it for THJ. I had been privileged to watch the judges perform  their  evaluations of new unregistered hostas.....and lived to write about it.  I was unable to attend the next two FLs but was fortunate enough to get to First Look IV in Schenectady,  New York this last summer. I am  a major fan of this annual event, so I will make no pretense at objectivity. FIRST LOOK 5 WILL BE HELD IN BURLINGTON, VERMONT THE WEEKEND OF JULY 9th, 2005.  I  have two
other motives in writing this article.

1) CHANGE/REVOLUTION.  As an organization we need to change. We understand this but continue to fight change with tooth and nail . The AHS has been very successful over the years and as we all know , too much success leads to Edsels, cheese in spray cans, and  brightly painted garden ornaments showing wooden figures bending over to weed. The more offensive of these garden ornaments make strange noises when the wind blows. I don't want such things to  happen to the AHS . We need to nip our status quo mentality in the bud. The perfect vehicle for this bud nipping is an event like First Look.

2) HUMOR. We need more laughter in the  world of hostas. As any true group of obsessives does, we have our moments when our little "hobby" plays too large a part in our lives. These guilty moments should all be chronicled and shared. Laughter at ourselves is far cheaper than analysis.

    I will start by hurling a couple of complimentary bricks  at the status quo of the AHS....just because it's there. I love what the AHS has done for us and all they continue to do. However, I see such events as First Look (courtesy of the minds of Carol Brashear, Bill Meyer, and others) as a great device for  stirring the establishment's pot.  The AHS  has done an incredible job of  promoting the genus Hosta well beyond the borders of our own gardens, and under its aegis we have built a powerful society of hosta lovers. The AHS publishes the Cadillac of botanical specialty journals: THE HOSTA JOURNAL. All the volunteers who have given us the AHS over the years deserve our respect and gratitude. Volunteer work  of any stripe is a very
tricky thing, and in the hosta world volunteers are required to have  thick hides ,  selective medications, and years of therapy as a chaser to the years of work: four years as a volunteer requires eight years in group
therapy, or if you play your cards correctly, the four years of volunteer work becomes the therapy.

   FIRST LOOK is still busy growing and defining itself, it is the perfect vehicle for iconoclasts and anarchists in the hosta world. Of course someday, that which was revolutionary and exciting about First Look will be ripe for the next group of Young Turks to scale the barricades of tradition. For now however, FIRST LOOK is seen by a number of perceptive individuals as the "growing tip" of the AHS.   It is THE EVENT where the new, the controversial, and the unthinkable get a hearing.

   First Look attempts to evaluate and judge unregistered  hostas : the plant itself, not just a leaf in a small vase. It acknowledges that the appearance of the WHOLE plant in our garden may be as important, if not more important , than the appearance of a single pampered leaf in a show. This was modestly revolutionary 4 years ago. UNREGISTERED HOSTAS being seriously evaluated by hosta judges caused some dentures to drop. It was not entirely without precedent, but now there  were four awards of $300.00 each for the winning plants. There were other prizes too,  which were a bit funkia. The rumors that other parts of our "hosta" country have tried their own version of First Look are true.

   This year's First Look 4 was the best attended yet with 98 hosta folks registered. The milling throngs clearly suggested a much higher number. First Look 4 was sponsored by AHS Region 1 and the Upstate New York Hosta Society. There were some serious daylily people present but they were made to stand at the back of all lines.

   Meg and Jim Dalton and Kent Terpening  ran the event. The before and after photos of them are remarkable. They are all out of the HOME now and doing much  better.

   The following vendors were present: O'Brien Nurserymen, Long Island Home of Hosta, Green Hill Farm, Eagle Bay Gardens, Mason Hollow, Azalea Patch, Seneca Hill Perennials, and Vinyards Choice.  These folks gently catered to the hosta addicted , who eagerly stood in line to get their fix. Hosta buyers never have enough hands.

   Other events included a devious display of hostas selected by Kent Terpening. There were ten different hostas and First Look attendees were offered the chance to submit an entry naming each hosta.  The hostas Kent selected from his own garden included such plants as: H. 'Feather Boa', H. 'Medusa', H. 'Sweet Home Chicago', and H. 'Brother Ronald'. You are probably thinking you could easily identify all of them. Of course you know where they are in YOUR OWN garden! Hostas appearing on a table in a Holiday Inn in Schenectady, New York, magically become nearly unrecognizable; they look nothing like YOUR plants.  The person who won that contest got 8 of them right (John O'Brien).  I didn't sign my entry for fear of my displaying ignorance. Since I was sure that they all were sports of H. 'Sum and Substance' my anonymous  entry was a good idea.

   There were two workshop presentations. The first was by Carol Brashear and she dealt with infestations of voles, which she has encountered first hand. She gave us a number of ways to cope including Valium and the little talked about nuclear option.  Ran Lydell presented a second workshop on Bud Isolation  which seemed to involve a six-pack and libidinous toasts to the unending line of H. ' Striptease' sports. I only heard about this later having been trapped in the elevator with a group of senior citizens dressed in red thongs on their way to the  pool in the lobby for a bout of synchronized swimming.

   The garden tours Saturday and Sunday were wonderful. The Daltons have a relatively new garden with hostas no older than 6 years. Jim told me that they now have 1401 hostas.  The hostas are just at the edge of the age where they will spread out and fill every square inch of the generous space that now exists between the plants. Weeding will soon be a thing of the past, while transplanting giant clumps of hostas to newly created gardens will be the order of the day. So few of us ever realize that time will come with a bang and not a whimper.

   The Jennings' Garden, and  the Ferguson's Japanese style garden , had more than their share of wonders. These gardens were smaller, yet each of them utilized slopes, rocks, ledges, streams, ponds, and wild areas to great advantage. There was one garden, where at the end of a path, you found yourself in a "garden room" surrounded by tall grasses. If you found that spot, you indeed found a wonder. Those of us with finite  space would have done well to study these gardens. Garden sanctuaries of great taste and imagination are all doing well in the Schenectady,  New York.

   First Look, amongst other events, sponsored an auction, an ugly sneaker contest, and had a gift hosta for all. There were also enough hostas on display in the lobby and hallways of the Holiday Inn that a group of
funeral directors (on their annual blowout in Schenectady) were actually considering using hostas in their funereal displays. I interrupted this group and told them that the hosta was the friendship plant, not the "mourning" plant. I directed them toward the lowly sedum; I feel that 'Mourning Frost' would be ideal.

   Kevin Walek was the keynote speaker and presented a passionate plea for thorough and thoughtful registration. He found himself on the same side as Bill Meyer, which made both of them uncomfortable. He made the process of identifying the visual markers in a hosta's ancestry an exciting exercise. What might have been a mere scold about registration, became a plea  for the hybridizer to offer us the keys to explore the mysteries of hosta ancestry .

   The money winners of the show included :

Arthur Wrede for a small green plant with red petioles and red moving up into the leaf. This was the William and Eleanor Lachman Best Seedling Award, which was selected by the judges.

Arthur Wrede won again for another seedling, this one streaked with red petioles, honored by the Mildred Seaver Award which was judged by the attendees. Good for Arthur.

The Kevin Vaughn Award  for Best Sport (chosen by the judges) went to Glen Williams (a distant relative from Texas). The plant was a green-edged sport of H. 'Prairie Fire'.

The Frances Williams Award for Best Sport chosen by the attendees went to Dave Chopko with a sport from  H. 'Eldorado'.

   As hosta lovers, I will leave it to your imaginations to see 70 or 80 new hostas as yet unseen at garden centers or in hosta catalogues. Of course it was also a secret pleasure to imagine that some of your hostas were just as wonderful as those on display....and those that won the prizes.  In fact, in your heart of hearts, it was easy to imagine yourself as a hosta judge.

   Now we come to my favorite part of First Look 4. After the prizes were announced, the judges and hosta experts did something very special. They hosted and encouraged a critique of the competitive judging itself.

   The judges for the show had been Barbara Jones, Mark Zilis, Kevin Walek, and Carolyn Schafner. Bob Solberg was a honored guest who was dragged into the discussion from time to time... although reluctantly. The discussion amongst the judges themselves (with some participation from the audience) dealt specifically with what they "saw" in a hosta: the good and the bad. They used real examples of winners and losers from the show. It was the best education I have received on how experts see hostas. They certainly provided a font of information for any person entering a hosta contest.....and yet the information was an education on seeing hostas in our own gardens: with or without contests.

   Collectors and novice hosta gardeners alike were challenged to see their own treasures differently. Time and again the experts pointed out where they felt a hosta succeeded in in being unique. Of course "unique" can be a curse as well as a blessing. Those hostas we had all seen in the competition ,  now came to be seen through the eyes of the judges, with their words, and through our questions. The perfect learning experience.

   The scale of this event gave one a chance to talk to the "experts". The judges, judging themselves and looking at their decisions "out loud", gave the event a revolutionary dimension; it put you in the middle of the question and not just at the answer end of the stick.

NEXT: Let First Look try and deal with the revolutionary concept of exploring the quagmire  of seeing and evaluating FLOWERING hostas.


glen williams