Paul Aden and the American Hosta Society
Bill Meyer
    The story of the Aden plants over the last four decades is inextricably intertwined with the story of the American Hosta Society and its rise. In 1968, Alex Summers got together with Frances Williams and Eunice Fisher and others to form the AHS. At this time, Paul Aden's interest was mainly in daylilies. He had a brief and apparently very contentious turn as president of the Long Island Daylily Society, which ended in his resignation before the first year of his term was up, to prevent "further turmoil" in his own words.

This photo taken in the late 1960's of Aden (right) leaving a meeting at Andre Viette's is perhaps symbolic of his move from daylilies to hostas. He soon brought his brand of turmoil to the hosta world where it continues to this day.

1970 - 2012 

   Aden joined the AHS in 1970, and became a board member in 1972. He moved up to Secretary-Treasurer in 1976, and Bulletin Editor in 1979, and finally left the AHS Board in 1985. He was on the AHS board, therefore, in 1974 when the AHS created the registration authority and named the first hosta registrar. Coincidentally, this was the very year that Aden began acquiring Florence Shaw's plants, and in the first year of hosta registration Aden named and registered what appears to be four of her plants. Those registrations made no mention of Mrs. Shaw, and none of those that followed did either.
    It should be noted that Paul Aden soon put together a little private business selling hostas by the division, often at high collector prices of as much as $100. This may explain the gaps between his acquiring the plants and registering them. He may have been dividing pieces off of them for sale and waiting until he had clumps again to register. Also, many of the variegated ones may have taken years to yield stable forms.
    The AHS was a small society then, smaller than many local societies are today, and it's members were spread across the country in an era with much more limited communication. Hardly anyone knew where Aden had gotten those plants, but from the beginning there were those who wondered about it as no one ever saw evidence of hybridizing in his small garden. In the three Long Island AHS Conventions of 1974, 1979, and 1983 in which Aden's garden was on tour, attendees saw it transformed mysteriously from few hostas to hundreds of mature clumps with none of the seedling beds that denote hybridizing.

   As a board member, Aden was able to continue registering plants and deflecting any challenges as to whether they were his to register. During his 13 years on the AHS Board, Aden rose to fame and the AHS could fairly be said to have aided and abetted him, if only by not countering his claims to be the originator of so many great hostas. Although the first two AHS presidents were among those who knew the plants weren't Aden's, they did not know where Aden got the plants so they couldn't say for sure that they weren't his. For his part, Aden threatened to sue anyone who did question their origin publicly. Those threats effectively kept the rest of the board quiet for fear the society would be sued as well.
    The question arose of whether Aden would really have followed through with a lawsuit or whether they were just empty threats. By our estimates, Aden made well over $100,000 over time in private sales and royalties on plants that weren't his. It was a significant amount of money at the time, especially for someone on a schoolteacher's salary. That money financed his trips to England and Japan to hunt for more plants he could pass off as his own. He certainly would have been concerned about being taken to court by the owners of those plants and possibly having to pay them the money he'd gotten. His entire paper empire could have gone up in flames if word got around too much that he had acquired those plants without permission.
    Aden studiously avoided getting put in a position where he would be caught claiming other people's plants were his own. Whenever asked about them, about their parentage, about his hybridizing, etc., he was notoriously coy and secretive. He could beat around the bush with the best of them. One response I heard answering a question about parentage was "That's for me to know and you to find out." Certainly in all of our digging we did not find one instance of Aden actually saying a plant was his own origination. He implied it many times, but always cleverly left the reader or listener to reach the conclusion that he originated the plants. Even in the biography in his own book he does not claim to be a hybridizer, but rather a "consultant in marketing and developing new plants..." 
    Behind the scenes, those in the know alerted others that Aden was not what he pretended to be. Alex Summers remained on the selection committee for the award that bears his name unil the day he died. The Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award is the AHS' top honor for people who have served the advancement of the Genus Hosta, or served the AHS. He said that as long as he lived he would make sure Aden never received the award, because he knew that Aden had never really done anything to merit the award. Numerous complaints about other AHS awards going to Aden for those plants forced changes to the AHS award system, but never a public comment about the
   From the late 1970's into the 1980's Aden's fame grew, but in the AHS silence became the norm. Aden stopped attending board meetings and the AHS mostly looked the other way. While Aden was never really promoted or even mentioned much in AHS publications, the position in those publications always was that the plants were his. The simple act of putting (Aden) behind the plant names in every article or photo caption did more to create the myth of Aden the great hybridizer than anything else. It seemed a truce had developed between the AHS and Aden. For his part he would not file lawsuits, and for the AHS' part they would not promote him or allow him to receive their awards.
   Over time, because of those registrations and publications, nursery catalogs and other publications outside the AHS all began placing Aden's name behind the plants, unknowingly contributing to Aden's great deception. This continued through the 1980's and 1990's, despite word about Aden getting around so much that he abandoned trying to register other peoples' plants in 1990. 

Aden posing with 'Fragrant Bouquet' 

   Over time, because of those registrations and publications, nursery catalogs and other publications outside the AHS all began placing Aden's name behind the plants, unknowingly contributing to Aden's great deception. This continued through the 1980's and 1990's, despite word about Aden getting around so much that he abandoned trying to register other peoples' plants in 1990. Rumors about Aden increased steadily, stories of thefts and other misdeeds, to the point where if a valuable plant went missing Aden was blamed whether he was in the area or not. Hybridizers were warned not to let him near their gardens both in the US and abroad, and he was unable to acquire plants from anyone. With the doors of any potential sources closed to him, his "hybridizing career" came to an end, and he became more and more isolated in his Long Island home.
   By that point it was widely established in most peoples' minds that he was the originator of most of the top-selling plants in the marketplace. Everywhere you look it was (and still is) 'Sum and Substance' (Aden), 'Blue Angel' (Aden), 'Sun Power' (Aden), etc. This was truly a deception on the grand scale, and the AHS' participation in it was passive yet undeniable.
    A big part of how this all came about was the registration system. It is important to know that the registrar's job is defined by the ICNCP codes. Under those, the registrar is required to record for posterity  names and descriptions of hostas of the day. That job does not include making determinations of whether the originator or other supplied information about the plant is correct. It is up to prospective registrants to supply accurate information. Registration does not confer any ownership of the plants or any rights to it - it is simply a record of the plant made by the person registering it. The first registrations were just index cards that did include a line that said "Hybridized or Selected by ________ ", but this information was not added to the publication of the registrations.

Aden's own photo of "his" 'Blue Angel' 

    In other genera, filing false registrations can create many problems for those who might consider doing it, but in the AHS the whole registration system for hosta was still in its infancy when Aden began abusing it. He corrupted it from the start.
    The AHS, in turn, follows those registrations in its publications, awards, and show judging. It accepts the information in the registration as gospel, and in effect passes that information on to the members and the rest of the world. Aden hooked into that system early on and used it to his advantage for nearly twenty years. Only in 1997 did the registration authority change to a system that demanded the originator in registrations, primarily caused by Aden's behavior.
    The AHS, up until the investigations into the Aden plant origins began in 2012, continued to place Aden's name after all his registrations and treat them as his own in their publications, and the hosta registrar did not make changes to those registrations until January of 2012. Nearly forty years after Aden registered the first of Florence Shaw's plants as his own and twenty-two years after he stopped registering other's work as his own, it was finally time to give recognition to those he took advantage of.

2012 - 2014

    Following the death of Paul Aden in 2010, preparations began for looking into the origins of the Aden plants. For years those who were aware of the situation had kept quiet at the request of AHS boards because of the possibility of Aden making good on his threats and suing the AHS if the origins were questioned. Once he had passed away, the Registrar for the Genus Hosta, Kevin Walek, was the first to announce that he would be making changes in the Aden registrations. In his long and close friendship with Alex Summers, he had heard many of the stories about Aden, and in the interest of making the registration database as correct as possible, he wanted to look into what information still existed regarding the plants. He placed an asterisk on all Aden registrations to indicate that they should not be considered Aden's originations until further investigation revealed who those originators were.
   Immediately following that, a committee formed that included Kevin Vaughn, Mark Zilis, Don Dean, C.H. Falstad, Steven Shaw, and myself. We would be independently researching the Aden plants, outside of any AHS board oversight or interference. After a couple months the AHS board followed suit by forming its own committee that it called the AHS Cultivar Origination Commission. While our investigation committee worked only on researching the origins, the AHS committee had other plans. Their intention was to review discoveries and recommend to the Registrar the changes they thought should be made.
   The Registrar's announcement angered some on the AHS executive committee. One of them actually called his announcement "treason", and others said "Nobody cares about that anymore" and "Anybody who cares is dead now, so why change anything". They said it would cause too much controversy, and that it would embarrass former board members, and they wanted the investigation shut down.
    Some viewed the AHS Cultivar Origination Commission, which was put in place by Douglas Beilstein, the president at the time, as being there to make sure Aden retained his legacy. It should be noted that few members of that executive committee had any knowledge or experience with the stories concerning the Aden plants, or contact with those who did know more. They had nominated a group of the Aden-registered plants for the society's highest plant award, the Benedict Medal, and wanted them going through that program with the awards going to him if they won. As for Aden late in life admitting the plants weren't his, they dismissed that as signs of dementia despite no clinical diagnosis of such. 

Aden's own photo of "his" 'Blue Cadet'

    Our investigations began to unravel the truth and realized it might be some time before we found all the information that remained from that period. The Commission found it was unable to refute the origination discoveries made and for some reason felt pressure to jump to recommending changes. It did recommend originators be added to some 30 of the total of 189 Aden plant registrations but that Aden be credited as originator on 20 others before deciding to call it quits and just say the rest should be marked "unknown". The AHS executive committee, now under new president Don Dean, rejected its own commission's recommendation and demanded the registrar return the remaining 139 to keeping Aden's name the way they were originally registered. It was a decision that could accurately be described as purely political in nature. The AHS is an organization that struggles from time to time with political issues and behavior rather than focusing on hostas as it should.
   While this article may seem to condemn the AHS as an organization, that is not my intent. Many good people starting with the society's beloved founder Alex Summers were very unhappy about what Aden was doing and would have put a stop to it if they had enough information. Aden successfully surrounded his activities with enough smoke that they only became clear recently as many of the pieces of the puzzle started to give us a glimpse of the overall picture. With too little knowledge of where the plants came from and Aden's threats to sue, those who knew something was very wrong found themselves unable to act, and it did not sit well with them. 
   With some important pieces of information still needed to complete the story of the Aden plants, our committee remains open and searching. It was never our intention to make decisions and reach final conclusions about the originators. That is for each to do on their own, and these are my conclusions here in these articles. I believe in time once all the information that still exists can be gathered that a consensus will form about the origins, and official changes will follow. To that end readers can see an uncensored summary of what we've found to date at the HostaLibrary and judge for themselves.