Harold McDonell: A New Facet Revealed
Don Dean, Ramsey, Minnesota and Marcia Sully, Eden, New York
   Harold McDonell has been providing long-term service to the American Hosta Society, having joined in the mid 80s. Harold’s tenure as Vice President of Judging and Exhibitions began in the Fall of 2001 and lasted two full terms. He completed an overhaul of the Judge’s Handbook and instituted the Benedict Garden Performance Plan during this time. Both are in place and continue to be used in 2010. They were huge tasks and long overdue. He has continued to play an active role in board meetings and is known for his calm voice, sound reasoning, well-honed organizational skills, and dedication to our society, as well as a passion for our plant-hostas. Harold has been a sparkling gem within the leadership of the AHS.
   A charter member of the Georgia Hosta Society, he currently serves as its president. He has held every office in that organization over the years, including a previous term as president in the early 90s.
   Imagine the excitement when he revealed a previously hidden facet of his involvement with hostas during the 2009 AHS National Convention in Lansing, Michigan. He allowed that he has had success in his breeding program, with blues that hold well in the South! Breeding? Success? It was not generally known that he had been hybridizing, let alone that he had reached a degree of success; he had been working quietly, modestly keeping this to himself. Finally, in the spring of 2010, he promised to share some photos of his plants. True to his word, the pictures were shared. Now you get to see for yourself.

   Harold has been collecting and growing hostas since 1986 at his home in Fayetteville, Georgia. He inherited his gardening enthusiasm from his parents, both of whom were gardeners, but especially from his grandmother, who was the family’s avid perennial gardener. Currently, he utilizes an acre section of his five acre wooded plot. Originally he grew daylilies and hybridized thousands of seedlings, winning two daylily awards, but he was constantly fighting the shade and decided to go more into shade gardening.
   His introduction to the Genus Hosta occurred when he was on a daylily tour in a garden in Auburn, Alabama. He saw H. ‘Tokudama Aureonebulosa’ and instantly fell in love with it. Shortly thereafter, he read an article in a local newspaper by George Schmid about forming a local hosta society.  He immediately called George, asking where he could purchase this hosta and how to pronounce its name. George quickly replied, “Don’t worry about it; you can’t grow that hosta here.” George was right. That hosta cannot be successfully grown in Georgia, but Harold tried anyway, killing it twice before giving up.  At George’s suggestion, he also became a founding member of the Georgia Hosta Society, and the whole hosta world was opened to him.
   Slowly, Harold advanced into hosta gardening, purchasing a few at a time, encountering deer and vole setbacks along the way. Harold’s strategy is to grow his hosta in pots for two to three years. If something interests him, he puts it into the ground. “It’s been fun learning how to grow hosta in the deep South. I really have to amend the soil and work to find climate tolerant hostas, but it is so enjoyable,” Harold declared.
   Harold thought that hybridizing hosta might be more exciting than hemerocallis because hostas have not been hybridized nearly as extensively beyond the species.  Unlike daylilies, there appeared to be more wild cards possible with hosta hybridizing. He tried his hand at it in 1995. However, his first efforts growing hosta from seeds were a disaster.  Harold admits that he didn’t know how to take care of the seedlings and noted, “In the South you really have to baby them along. You have to take meticulous care because of the extreme heat and humidity.”
 
President's Cup Award for Daylily 'Mary's Gold'
 
 
   He abandoned his hybridizing attempts until 2003, shortly after retiring from his engineering job with Bell South. He observed which plants bore qualities that were desirable for his area, with its high, prolonged, heat and humidity, deciding to use those plants that thrived in Georgia to create his own plants.  His goal was to create those desirable qualities in new plants that perform even better in the Southern garden. Mary Chastain had paved the way as a Southern hybridizer, and Harold decided to give serious breeding another try. Fortunately for us, he has created some fine looking plants by applying his observations and skills.
   In 2003 he purchased a few streaked plants from Mary Chastain and labeled them according to their look.  The letters LS are used to designate Lakeside. The three main streaked breeders of importance, from a result standpoint, are LSHvySTR, a streaked seedling with very heavy substance, LSTriSTR, a tricolored streaked seedling, and LSFlpSTR, a green and white streaked plant with very floppy leaves. “Mary didn't want me to buy LSFlpSTR because of its floppy habit,” he stated. As Harold put it, “She (Mary Chastain) thought so little of it that she only charged me $30.  For Mary, that indicated it was only a step above compost. She usually charged $100+ for what she considered a good breeder streaked seedling.”  However, it turned out to be a surprisingly good parent and delighted Harold greatly. LSFlpSTR gave him quite a few blue seedlings when crossed with H. ‘Ginsu Knife’.  He was not looking for blue out of that cross, to say the least!  He also used H. ‘Galaxy’ occasionally and a couple of other streaked breeders to a limited extent as well.  However, most of Harold’s streaked plants have come from Mary's three seedlings.  Her seedlings are also the source of many of his tri-colored plants. 
   “I like that tri-colored look,” offered Harold. He has tried to breed for it. One peek at seedling 2010-01, a stable sport of 2005str10, and that characteristic is clearly evident in Harold’s program. Seedling 2005str10 was a cross of LSHVYSTR x 'Komodo Dragon'[1]. So far, it has shown no sign of melting out or burning, so he has high hopes for it.  The petioles of 2010-01 are almost totally cream, except for a fine green line on either side.  Harold likes that look, since the plant grows so upright.
   Harold loves blue hostas and has been working diligently on them to improve their staying power for the Southern gardener.  Hosta seedling 2006-12 ('Skylight' x 'Silver Bay')[2] is a beautiful blue that holds color longer into the season in Georgia.  It held in 2010 through some fairly hot weather, until three weeks of temperatures in the low to mid-90s pretty much deteriorated all of the wax which creates the appearance of blue in hostas.  
   H. ‘Pewterware’ has been one of the best parents to extend the blue period.  Seedling 2007-43 ('Halcyon' x 'Pewterware')[3] is reportedly Harold’s  strongest blue to date, although he is not crazy about its Tardiana form. It still held some color beyond the prolonged hot stretch of weather in July.  He will use it again this year to try to keep extending the blue holding period.  He placed H. ‘Purple Verticulated Elf’ next to it in the picture shown[4], to give an idea of how blue this seedling really is.  It beats 'Purple Verticulated Elf', a plant that is probably the most strongly hued blue in the Northern garden.
   Harold has done more with gold during the last couple of years and has a few good ones coming along.  Seedling 2008-01[5] is one of the better ones, derived from H. ‘Choo Choo Train’ (abbreviation CCTR) and 'Northern Exposure' (abbreviation NE).  He likes the ruffling on it, one of the things he wants to bring into his gold and yellow hostas.
   Regarding green hostas, Harold pointed out, “I love green hostas and have worked on them diligently.  I know they are not that popular, but I don’t care.” Good for him. The greens perform well across the range of climates and make excellent foils, as well as specimens.  He crossed H. ‘Maekawa’ and H. ‘Candy Dish’ in hopes of getting a large hosta with the ruffling of 'Candy Dish'.  The species hypoleuca ('Maekawa' is a named selection) grows very well in the South and throws some pretty large seedlings. Seedling 2006-05[6] and 2006-16[7] came closest to giving him what he wanted.  Both have large leaves, running about 10" x 14", and exhibit some nice crimping along the leaf edges.  2006-16 is probably the best, according to Harold, but it is too early to tell.  2006-16 has scapes more like 'Maekawa', meaning they flop, a trait of hypoleuca seedlings that he definitely does not like.  2006-05 scapes are more upright, but it is a tough pod parent. It yields only a few seeds each year. Seedling 2006-05 also has some mahogany on its petioles, while 2006-16 had green petioles. 
   'Candy Dish' has been a good parent, giving nice glossy leaves and good pie crusting and ruffling.  Harold has also used 'Marilyn Monroe', but it tends to pass on its light green color to its seedlings and is not the hue Harold is seeking. However, it has also produced some nice ruffling in its seedlings.
 
 
    Harold has been playing some with the colored petioles, but he goes through a lot of trash seedlings to get just a few worth retaining for another year.  He doubts he will put too much time into that trait.  He also commented, “By the way, I really loved some of the colored scapes …  I have just about come to the conclusion that colored scapes will be more exciting to hostaholics in the future than colored petioles.”
  Check out pictures of seedling 2004STR02[8] and two stable sports from it, 2010-02[9] and 2010-03[10].  The stable sports of 2004Str02 only occurred last year. Harold divided them out this spring.  2004STR02 was a good cross, and the two stable sports are beautiful, although it took a long while for them to develop. As Harold noted, “I have been surprised how stable many streaked seedlings can be as streakers, when you WANT them to stabilize!”
   Harold’s favorite stable variegated seedling is 2008-07[11].  It was a streaked seedling in a 5" pot last year, but came up stable and huge (about 12" x 12" leaves) this year.  It is one of several from (LSHvyStr x H.’Komodo Dragon”)[12] x H. ‘Lakeside Fresh Prince’, a medium- sized, bright green, cup-leafed plant.  'Lakeside Fresh Prince' (abbreviated LSFP in the pictures) has given Harold several nice seedlings when crossed with his streaked seedlings.  He intends to put it back to work this year. Seedling 2008-07 stabilized before Harold even got a chance to use it as a streaked parent.  It is still just one division in its second full year. He hopes it will speed up, increasing the number of divisions, and keep its size.  It may, however, give him one of those nasty surprises before evaluation is over.  “Melting out of white margins and centers is all too common in the long hot Southern summers, especially when the margins are as wide as they are on this seedling.  Time will tell,” he explained. 
   Harold will probably register seedlings 2005-21[13] and 2005-43[14] this year.  These will mark his entry into the registration stage of development. 2005-21 looks good throughout the year, but is a stunner in the spring with that soft yellow color.  The softness is the result of a light glaucous bloom.  The backs are almost solid white from a very heavy bloom.  Harold admitted, “I know 2005-43 is just another green, but it is one I really like for its deep bright emerald green color and its dense mounded form.  Flower scapes are also nice and straight with decent flowers.” He has as a number of other seedlings he is evaluating, which may be registered in the future.
   Harold stated “With less than 300 named varieties in my collection, hosta gardening is a wonderful retirement hobby, and it will stay just that! The same goes for the seedlings. I don’t want hybridizing to become a job!” He starts about 3,000 seedlings a year, but few go very far in the evaluation process. As for the seedlings that don’t make the cut, Harold says he gives a ton of them away. Some he puts into local club sales, while others he gives to Master Gardeners' groups to use in their sales. Those that don’t make the first and biggest cut are composted.
   Harold concluded, “If I have learned one thing from my hybridizing experience so far, it is that each year can bring surprises for a selected seedling-sometimes nice and often not nice surprises!”   Indeed, we shall wait and see. Northern gardeners know that a good blue in Georgia will perform wonderfully, and Southern gardeners will wait with baited breath. Who doesn’t love a good tri-colored, gold, or green hosta, if it is distinctive and performs well? Indeed we SHALL wait, looking forward to the results of Harold’s evaluation process.
 
     
 

Next Article
Previous Article
Contents Page