Hosta College 2013
Libby Greanya, Jackson, MI
Every year, mid-March signals the beginning of a new year for our gardens.  It is also the time when some 350 people gather in Piqua, Ohio, to attend Hosta College.  This year marked a special milestone - the 20th anniversary of Hosta College.

I traveled to Piqua accompanied by my husband, Michael, along with longtime friend and mentor, Clarence Owens.  It is always an adventure to travel with Clarence, as his expertise in botany, zoology, and entomology come to life as he spots wildlife, plants, and, of course, road kill, which is probably our favorite topic of discussion. 

As we arrived in Piqua, we had to make a side trip.  You see, Piqua is also home to A.M. Leonard, a horticultural tool and supply company.  Any gardener is bound to become ‘like a kid in a candy store’ in this place.  Order ahead and you can just pick up your supplies, or stop in and place your order at the counter.  Is it a coincidence that Hosta College is in the same town?

Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. marked the beginning of Hosta College.  Registration for the event has become effortless, as attendees picked up their badges, a special 20th anniversary gift bag, and received their gift hosta within a matter of minutes.  The whole process has been significantly streamlined over the years.  This year’s gift hosta was Hosta ‘Linda Blue’, named for Linda Blue Taubert, an active member of the Miami Valley Hosta Society, who passed away in 2006.  Vending opened with a bang, as attendees flocked to the vendors to get the best selections of plants and garden accessories.  The bookstore also opened Friday evening offering discounted gardening books, stationary, society clothing, and Hosta College souvenirs. 

Friday evening was an excellent opportunity to say “Hi” once again to all the friends everyone has made over the years and a chance to meet new people who will hopefully come back next year.  Through the generosity of the Great Lakes Hosta Society, refreshments were available for those who needed a snack or beverage to get them ready for the big event of the evening, the rare and unusual plant auction, which helps fund regional activities throughout the year.  

Saturday activities began early at Hosta College.  Classes started promptly at 8:30 a.m., challenging us older folks who hated 7:00 a.m. classes back in college.  Now that we’re older, getting to class at 8:30 a.m. is almost as hard.  There were six class periods along with lunch, packed into about 7 ½ hours.  This year I took a variety of classes: Rock Gardening, Dragonfly vs. Damselfly, Rare Plants and Where to Find Them, Drip Irrigation and Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener. All were superb. 

The Saturday evening banquet keynote speaker was Sandy Wilkins, who explained how Hosta College became a concept in her mind and how she, with others made it a reality.  Sandy has been tagged “The Mother Of Hosta College” for having a vision and then successfully implementing a plan to make Hosta College become not just a reality, but a hugely successful annual affair.  Sandy’s talk was meticulous, informative, enthusiastic, and entertaining.  She thanked the original members who worked on the concept that eventually became Hosta College.  Of the original members on the committee, Clarence Owens and Marcia Niswonger stood for an appreciative crowd. 

We learned from Sandy that the first Hosta College was held in 1993, in a Dayton, Ohio, Comfort Inn and had sixty-eight “students.”  In 1993 there were just five teachers and all classes were held in one large room.  In the early years, students were given a “diploma.”  By the second year, students were given a choice of classes.  Fifteen classes were available and each student could choose three classes to attend from the total. 

In an effort to find a place large enough to accommodate a growing demand, Marcia Niswonger found a school in Piqua, Ohio.  In 1995, Hosta College came to the Upper Valley Career Center and those of us who have attended for years consider this building “our college.”  (When I saw all the up-scale renovations and “coffee areas” this year, I was a bit concerned that the college was getting prissy, but then I walked through the automotive area and saw the disemboweled trucks and tractors, while smelling the oil.  It is still a “working persons” college.  They love to get their hands dirty as much as we do!).

Tom & Becki Micheletti, Cindy Tomashek, Mona Keehn, Mary Schwartzbauer, Marcia Sully
Door Prizes
Bob Sinke & Sandy Wilkins
Hypertufa Mushroom class
Marcia Niswonger, Clarence Owens, Sandy Wilkins
Mark Hanner - Decorating a Hosta Tile

By 1996, there were 150 attendees at Hosta College.  Vending and a seedling contest were added, a first, “First Look” if you will!  The following year “Park A Plant” was added and gave people a chance to store their treasures in a secure location for a nominal donation.  This was a great idea and probably encouraged more sales at vending.  Two lunch periods were also added in 1997, to meet the needs of the expanding success of the event.  There were just too many people to be seated in the dining area at one time. 

As time passed, our “mentors” aged.  1999 was the last year Herb and Dorothy Benedict attended Hosta College.  In 2000, the “millennial” year, the first gift hosta, H. ‘Great Lakes Gold’, was given to each student.  Hosta is “the friendship plant” and so organizers envisioned the idea of a gift hosta to honor everyone who attends.  That tradition has continued. 

In 2013, almost four hundred students attended Hosta College, with seventy classes to choose from and over fifty knowledgeable teachers graciously volunteering their time and energy.  Although attendance has declined from a high of around five hundred attendees in the “middle years” (there were years when people were turned away due to space limitations), Hosta College is still going strong and shows no sign of additional decline.  Here’s to twenty more years of Hosta College!
New Author Bio -   Libby Greanya was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a non-gardening family.  At the age of 12, her mother instructed her to transplant ajuga in a barren strip between a sidewalk and the garage.  The rock hard clay bent her trowel, but the ajuga lived and a gardener was born!  After finishing undergrad at Abilene Christian College in Texas, followed by medical school and residency at the University of Michigan, she moved to Jackson, Michigan in 1983.  There, she got a real job and started a family.
Clarence Owens and Libby Greanya

At age 30, during a prenatal office visit, Libby's obstetrician told her he would not continue to care for her unless she took two of his cast-off hybridizing seedling flats, all from H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans'.  Dutifully following her OBs advice, a very pregnant hosta gardener was born.  Thank you, Dr. Gil Jones, for both gifts!  Add in mentoring from Clarence Owens and Dr. Jim Wilkins, plus crossing paths with Dr. Herb Benedict.  How lucky could she get?

Libby’s husband, Michael, is also an avid gardener and on the Board of the Michigan Hosta Society.  They are members of the American Hosta Society (AHS), Michigan Hosta Society (MHS), Great Lakes Region Hosta Society (GRLHS), and have attended many national conventions and Hosta Colleges.  Over half of the hosta in their garden came from MHS and AHS auctions and plant sales in the mid 1980's-early 1990's, purchased long before tissue culture.  We were fortunate to be selected as a host garden for the AHS National tours in 1999 and again in 2009, memorable experiences.  While hosta still remain the focal point, many exotic and rare plants, trees, and conifers are now part of the landscape, including a rock garden with alpine plants, prompting Libby’s interest in the Great Lakes NARGS chapter (North American Rock Garden Society), where she is secretary. Also, there are several mini hosta beds, planted in a tufa rock garden, which was included in "The Book of Little Hostas" by Kathy and Mike Shadrack.

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