Winter Scientific Meeting: Lisle, Illinois
Holly O'Donnell, St. Anne, IL 

Winter Scientific 2013

January in the Chicago area – just gives you goose bumps thinking about it!  The WSM, however, always promises to warm the heart of the hosta lover.  You always learn something, you always make new friends, and you always get inspired.  The format is a simple one.  One Saturday in January, a number of hostaholics assemble at a Chicago area hotel and listen to some of the experts talk about topics that are either about hostas or directly related to them.  There are two breakout sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The attendees are able to choose two out of three topics that most interest him/her and attend those sessions.  If you're interested in the third topic – well, you do as I did.  You send your spouse to that one and make him promise to take good (and legible) notes.

Bob Solberg of Green Hill Farm in North Carolina was the first speaker.  If you've never heard of Bob – well, where have you been?  Bob has introduced more than fifty hostas, including Hosta 'Guacamole' and 'Orange Marmalade'.  I always look forward to hearing him speak.  He is very down to earth and very approachable on a one to one basis.  

Rob Mortko

Bob's presentation was entitled “What Makes a Great Hosta?”  After everyone jotted down the names of their favorite hostas, the rating system to choose the Benedict Garden Performance Award was explained.  How would our own favorite hostas be judged according to this rating system?  Would any of them make “Hosta of the Year?”  I know mine wouldn't, but they're still my favorites!  The rest of his talk concerned the fourteen traits of greatness, as pertain to hostas.  These include:  grows well, color, variegation, size, accessories (ruffled leaves, etc.), identifiable (distinctive), hybridizer, genetics, name recognition, series of sports, availability, marketing, celebrity, and longevity.  In Bob's opinion, 'Blue Mouse Ears' is the best name ever for a hosta with 'Sum and Substance' coming in a close second.  He also touched on one of my pet peeves as a hosta collector – finding a description of a hosta (in The Hostapedia, for example) that sounds like something I've got to have, only to learn it’s not available.  Some hostas that were once popular are now considered somewhat mundane.  As Bob noted, there are so many hostas being introduced every year that as the public was once fascinated by any new hostas, they are now seeing flaws in hostas that were once considered “special.”  What makes a great hosta?  The WOW FACTOR! 

Next, Glenn Herold, President of the Midwest Regional Hosta Society, gave a presentation on “The Korean Hostas and their Contributions to the Hosta Garden.”  Eight species that are indigenous to Korea and its nearby islands were discussed.  At first glance, these hostas all look similar – plain green hostas.  Most of the species, however, have been used in hybridizing.  For example, whether it is piecrust leaf edges from Hosta capitata, interveinal puckering from Hosta yingeri, or flowers that don't open from Hosta clausa, each species is in its own way unique.  The Korean hostas have been used to produce such cultivars as 'Potomac Pride', 'Mango Salsa', ‘Gemstone', and 'Whiskey Sour'. 

Olga Petryszyn offered a breakout session entitled “Experiences and Experiments on Moving a Mature Garden - You Don't Have to Say Goodbye to Your Old Friends.”  Her tenacity in handling the seemingly unrelenting problems with which she was confronted, made me think she was a gardening saint.  Her home was victim to eminent domain, but she had at least a couple of years to start digging before she had to vacate the premises.  Since her old home was being demolished and not being sold to new owners, she also had carte blanche in moving her garden.  She took everything, even the groundcovers!  From using forklifts to rip out trees and shrubs, a pickaxe to get through clay soil, and dealing with bobcats “suckin' gas and haulin' ass” through her yard, Olga finally made the move to her new home and proceeded to plant her garden.  She had numbered the plants from her old garden and put bamboo stakes with coordinating numbers where they were to be placed in her new yard.  

Door Prizes
Silent Auction Competition
Mark & June Luthea
Richard Hentschel
Her new front yard was a south-facing hill that was provided with shade from maple trees.  To prevent the roots from these maples from coming up and strangling the hostas that were to be planted, she used landscape fabric which was treated with copper hydroxide on the underside.  Everything got planted, even though the equipment sometimes slid down the hill.  The trees started to look sickly, so wells were put around the trees and drain tiles were scattered about the hill.  The trees, however, eventually died for lack of oxygen.  Once more the hostas had to be dug up and put in a raised bed, so that the trees could be taken down and young trees planted.  The problem now was that the area was too sunny.  Cedar posts with shade cloth were installed over plants in the front yard.  Moral of the story:  hostas are survivors, and so are their gardeners!

I sent my husband, Jim, to the breakout session hosted by Rob Mortko of Made in the Shade Gardens.  “Tissue Culture for Dummies...Like Me” sounded like a good presentation for the hosta lover.  In attendance were nursery personnel and collectors, as well as hybridizers.  Jim has a biology degree, with some background in lab work.  He has been interested in tissue culture, but became discouraged as to his ability to be successful after doing some research on the internet.  Fortunately, Rob's explanations filled in some gaps that the web research had left out.  TC is labor intensive, but when broken down in steps, it is much easier to understand and accomplish.  Essential, of course, is to maintain a sterile environment, which, for the average person, could be the most difficult requirement.  One interesting fact was that when taking tissue from a plant infected with nematodes, the nematodes will not be passed on to the new plants.  That is not true with HVX, however.  (But then, one shouldn't be working with HVX infected plants!)  Jim noted that there was a great Q & A session after the presentation, with the answers being concise and easy to understand.  This is not always the case with questions on a technical subject.  I have a feeling that our basement will soon resemble a lab.  

As I walked into the next seminar, I spotted the familiar face of Richard Hentschel, who had been one of my Master Gardener instructors.  Richard's topic was “Garden Pests – The Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys.”  A power point presentation was used to explain the differences among insects and their life stages.  Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was emphasized as a safe and responsible method for controlling “bad” insects and not harming the “good” ones.  Essential to this philosophy is correct identification of the insect and the stage the insect is in at the time damage is noticed, so that proper control methods may be used.  The goal is not eradication of a particular insect in the garden, but to determine whether or not control is warranted at all – economic threshold level vs. economic injury level.  IPM includes cultural, biological, mechanical, and, as a last resort, chemical control methods.  Controls should be applied when the insect is in its most vulnerable life stage, using the safest product available. 

In the afternoon, Mark Zilis of Q & Z Nursery in Rochelle, Illinois (and author of the hosta bible – The Hostapedia) presented “Hostas of Distinction – Part 12.”  Mark discussed not only a few of the unique hostas he has seen in some of the hosta gardens that he has visited throughout the years, but also revealed some of the equally unique hybridizers.  Some hostas worth mentioning are:  'Dorothy Benedict', a breakthrough in hybridizing for its thick substance and variegation; 'Golden Tiara', the first small hosta with gold edges; 'Paul's Glory', the greatest gold-centered hosta, and the “groundhog hosta” found at Wade and Gatton, 'Sum and Substance' which is 9 ½' wide and 5' high.  (Size due to a groundhog being buried beneath it???)  Mark's visits to Japan throughout the years have enabled him to explore the native growing areas of several Hosta species, as well as getting together with some of the Japanese hosta experts and sharing both knowledge and ideas.  It was in Japan that he saw his first species, Hosta montana, growing in volcanic soil.  On his fifth trip, in 2012, he came to the realization that there is a lot more potential in hybridizing when the species plants are vastly different in the wild.  Hosta longpipes, for example, varied greatly within a quarter mile radius.  Some exhibited narrow curled leaves while others had dark green wide leaves.  Then, there were those specimens that resembled neither!  In October, Mark received an email from Japan informing him that H. sieboldiana had been discovered in the wild on a cliff in Japan.  This will add fuel to the ongoing debate as to whether it is a species or a cultivar.  Mark also shared with the audience that he believes 'Tosayama' should be a species, not a cultivar, and has made it one of his goals to make sure that this hosta becomes a species.  Lastly, and to much applause, Mark announced that the second edition of The Hosta Handbook will be released in the late spring.  It will differ from the first edition by including info about tree and shrub compatibility, as well as a problem-solving guide.  I'm sure we'll all be looking forward to it!

Last, but not least, Jeff Miller of Land of the Giants Hosta Farm in Milton, Wisconsin, presented “So You Want a Shade Garden – Building a Shade Garden Dos and Don'ts.'  Jeff reminded everyone to put a 12-12-12 fertilizer and a slug repellent around where hostas grow as soon as the snow is gone.  If hostas have started to emerge by the time you get around to doing this, it is still okay to put both fertilizer and repellent over the pips.  Since slugs tend to retreat in July and August, when the weather heats up and the ground is drier, it is essential to use the slug repellent in spring and early summer.  Planting hostas in groups of three, of course, makes clumps faster, but Jeff also suggested the “fifty foot rule” pertaining to the different colors of hostas.  The discussion turned to hosta enemies, such as southern blight, foliar nematodes, voles, slugs (again – they are persistent), and HVX, with helpful hints to handle each.  In conclusion, Jeff's parting words were, “Don't be afraid of sun!”  

A summary of the WSM would be incomplete without the mention of the annual Seed & Plant Silent Auction that is held throughout the day.  A handout was distributed with around 90 choices for the attendees to bid on.  Last year, at my first WSM, I was able to win three lots of blue hosta seeds.  Since blues are my favorite, I tried bidding on five different lots of blues this year.  Unfortunately, I had no success.  Apparently, I'm not the only blue lover!  I'll try again next year...

Lunchtime Olga Petryszyn
New Author BioHolly was convinced that the hosta was not one of the perennials she wanted in her yard.  She came to this conclusion after years of living in a house with a sunny yard and with neighbors who grew hostas that were crispy by July.  Then she and her husband moved to a house with a yard that has a dense canopy of oak trees.  Needless to say, with almost 300 hostas in their collection, the dynamic against hostas has changed.  Holly is a Master Gardener, as well as a member of the Kankakee Valley Garden Club, Illinois Prairie Hosta Society, the Midwest Regional Hosta Society, and the American Hosta Society.  She attended her first national convention in June, and her first Midwest convention last year, where she also completed the Judges Clinic I.  This year, she also started showing leaves and began clerking at the leaf shows.  Though she has a wide variety of hostas she has a passion for the “blues.”

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