Warren Pollock, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania

 FIRST LOOK: AHS Region One’s Great Venue for Selecting Tomorrow’s Hosta Introductions… and Buying Some of Today’s Best New Introductions

   It is hard for me to realize that First Look is 10 years old. I recall attending the first event in Stamford, Connecticut. It was an instant hit, and First Look continues to be a highly popular weekend event. The site moves around each year to a different location in AHS Region One, comprising the New England states, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and northern Delaware. First Look 6 was held as part of the 2006 AHS National Convention hosted by the Delaware Valley Hosta Society in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; this year’s First Look 10 was at the Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey, on June 11–13.
   First Look’s novel concept was pioneered by Woodbury, Connecticut-based Carol Brashear and Bill Meyer, previously from Willingboro, New Jersey, and now a Woodbury resident also:


Tony Avent, Star Auctioneer

  • Hosta hybridizers and gardeners alike bring entire clumps of their new and unique hosta sports and seedlings to be judged by “expert” panels and also independently by all the attendees.
  • Prizes are awarded honoring some of Region One’s coveted hybridizers, namely Frances Williams, Kevin Vaughn, William and Eleanor Lachman and Mildred Seaver.
   What makes First Look so different and so exciting from other hosta shows is that the whole plant is exhibited and judged, not just a leaf or two. Many plants that come to First Look go on to be major hosta introductions. It’s a great opportunity both to get a peek at and influence what the future of hostas may look like, namely, some of the cultivars that nurseries will be prominently offering in a couple years.
   Details and winners of the 2010 event, with numerous photos, are posted January 1st on the First Look web site found HERE. I’m only going to mention a few highlights here.
   I was smitten by a variegated-leaf sport entered byDavid Chopko of Boonton, New Jersey. Dave’s entry at First Look 10 was a sport of ‘Hawkeye’, a not-well-known goodie registered by Minnesota’s Lillian Maroushek in 1999. (Probably her best known introduction is ‘Frosted Jade’, a 1978 registration that’s now a classic.) ‘Hawkeye’ has medium green leaves with a wide yellow border. It is a sport of ‘Gold Edger’, a popular Paul Aden ‘76 registration, especially noted  for sporting many interesting variegated-leafed cultivars.


'Ocean Isle Tie Dye'

'Pondering Parsippany'

   Dave’s sport differs from ‘Hawkeye’ in that the green leaf center is narrower, with thin rays strikingly jetting and feathering into the yellow border. This is a unique and handsome variegation, and both judges and attendees awarded the plant the Best Sport award. Dave and wife Roberta have named the cultivar ‘Ocean Isle Tie Dye’. Seems they will be using the prefix “Ocean Isle” as the identifying moniker for Dave’s introductions. Ocean Isle is their favorite North Carolina beach. They have property there, and now that Dave is retired (Roberta retired a few years ago), they spend much time there, when not gardening.
   Another winner was DVHS hybridizer Arthur Wrede’s ‘Almost’, a green seedling with colored petioles. See photo. Arthur entered it at First Look at the 2006 AHS convention and it didn’t get much notice. At last year’s First Look, Rick Goodenough (Marshfield, Massachusetts) entered it in Arthur’s name and again it didn’t get much notice. Carol and Bill have a clump of ‘Almost’ growing in their outstanding garden. “This year it looked especially nice,” Carol wrote me, “so Bill entered it in Arthur’s name.” It was the attendees’ choice for Best New Seedling, receiving the Mildred Seaver Award. “Arthur is thrilled,” Carol said, “and has named it H. ‘Almost’ as he has almost gotten the red [coloring from the petiole] up into the [leaf] veins.”
   I need to add that First Look 10 attendees didn’t see eye-to-eye with the judges concerning ‘Almost’; the judges’ panel gave it only a red ribbon. Carol pointed out that it is not uncommon for judges and attendees to disagree. “You’d be amazed,” she said, “how often First Look winners are chosen from the solid green class by the attendees.”
   The third winning entry was a highly attractive little green seedling from first-time entrant Jeff Moore of Wisconsin. Jeff has only recently begun hybridizing, but is already one of the most active and prolific hybridizers working with the genus Hosta. His entry, which he afterwards named 'Pondering Parsippany', won approval from the judges as the best seedling in the show. 
   I was impressed with the variety of new hostas on display, many being the nurseries’ own special introductions. Bridgewood Gardens' Chick Wasitis’ are named after contemporary music (which he was playing on an iPod for his own pleasure during vending). Bill Silvers featured a large number of his new series called “Spiritual Walk” with names taken from Biblical ideas. Viktoria Serafin of Glenbrook Farm offered her own attractive sport of ‘Golden Tiara’ called ‘Glen Tiara’ and registered in 2003. The Andersens of Mason Hollow Nursery featured a good selection of mini hostas, several hard to find, which coordinated nicely with DVHS President Conny Parsons’ very informative presentation in the afternoon on troughs and container gardening. Missouri's Lee Coates and Ran Lydell also offered rare and unusual woodies, principally Japanese maples.
   Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina, gave two presentations. The early afternoon’s was on his adventure of botanical exploration in Taiwan a couple of years ago. The trip was full of unexpected trials and tribulations, and Tony’s amusing lecturing manner made the travelogue highly entertaining.
   Tony also was the Saturday evening banquet’s keynote speaker, detailing his own extensive, in-progress hosta breeding program. He showed 96 photos and not a single seedling had variegated leaves. All had plain leaves. I thought this most peculiar since I know Tony’s hybrid introductions have variegation. Explaining what seems to be an atypical breeding methodology, Tony said he initially makes crosses specifically designed to obtain a desired clump shape and size, or leaf shape and size, or flowering characteristic.
   Many of his crosses are quite involved with complex multi-parent lineage. (Thoughtfully, he had passed out a two-page handout analytically listing the parentage of each seedling in the photos.) Intentionally, seedlings from his initial crossings are plain leaved. When satisfied with the plant’s overall characteristics (including vigor, particularly for dwarf plants), Tony then goes on to breed for leaf variegation— if he thinks the leaves need a border or center stripe. He said there is a fairly large selection of variegated-leaved hostas he can use for this purpose. Tony is the only hosta hybridizer I’m aware of that totally develops leaf variegation at the end of the breeding scheme.

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