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
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
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'. 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') 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') 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, 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
Harold has done more with gold during the last
couple of years and has a few good ones coming along.
Seedling 2008-01 is one of the better ones, derived from
‘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
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 and 2006-16 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
'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 and two
stable sports from it, 2010-02 and
2010-03. 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. 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”) x
‘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
and 2005-43 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.