Hosta College 2010 - An Easterner’s Perspective x 2 + 2
Carol Brashear, Woodbury, CT and Roger Kinchen, Windham, New Hampshire
The legend of the annual Great Lakes Regional Meeting called Hosta College has long intrigued us in the East. It draws attendees from all over the Great Lakes Region as well as from the adjacent Midwest and the South. For years, we have heard tales of attendance of 500 with the administrators having to turn away hoards of disappointed hostaphiles!
   I chatted with Sandy Wilkins, of Jackson Michigan, about this totally unique approach to a regional meeting with all day classes taught by volunteers in one-hour sessions and how and when it began. Here is what she revealed to me. 
   “I love to talk about Hosta College. Our first regional organizational meeting was in October of 1992 at my house in Indiana when I was first appointed the AHS Region 4 Director. We met two years in Dayton, Ohio, with the first meeting themed ‘Shakespeare on Hosta’ and run much like the Chicago Winter Scientific meeting. 1994 was the first "Hosta College" (I presented the name and concept to the Great Lakes board in the fall of 1993, assuming they would come up with a better name, they never did, so it stuck). We met in Dayton again, but the hotel was a difficult facility for our format. 1995 was the year we moved it to Piqua, at the Upper Valley JVS (Joint Vocational School) and every year got better and better.”


photo Carol Brashear

Butch Graves teaching

   In 2010, Hosta College was held on March 20 with a reception and auction held on Friday March 19, 2010 at the usual venue of the vocational school in Piqua, Ohio. Four of us from the New England Hosta Society attended this year. Kathie Sisson and I combined driving efforts and drove the 600+ miles to arrive for the fun. Roger Kinchen, who plans some of his vacation days around this event every year, grabbed a flight and winged his way out to Piqua. Barbara Jones, who has been an instructor for years, drove to Buffalo to hook up with her good friend Carolyn Schaffner to work on their joint judge’s clinic.
   This year’s attendance topped 430 with instructors giving classes in everything hosta and everything gardening. With many of the usual suspects: Greenhill Farm, the Hanners, Lee Coates, Koopmans Garden Torchiers, the AHS Store and the 2010 MN convention crew, and more, vending was a big hit with all attendees.
   Another fabulous feature of this regional event is the raffle. Every attendee is entered and then can purchase extra chances from the likes of Indiana Bob Balitewicz and Mary Bardens, who were manning the reception table every time I passed by.
   My classes included a double session of “Making a Garden Sphere”, which closed out early and was filled to the brim. Instructors Butch and Anita Graves led us artfully into the nitty gritty of combining a cement mixture and forming it carefully around a beach ball form. There were some real artists in my group that got creative with whimsy, but I went for a basic smoothed finish to be colored later when I got it home.
   I also sat in on a class given by Jim May, who included an instruction book of what appeared to be hundreds of garden DIY projects to make. Slides of the many finished projects in his own garden inspired us all to get busy when spring came to our neck of the woods. Lunch break was a time of catching a bite to eat while catching up with hosta friends from all over the country…always fun! The afternoon included a class by Oscar Cross on underused vines in the landscape and soon it was time to wrap up the day and attend the banquet. The featured speaker was Jeff Forinash of Girard's Nursery in Madison, Ohio, who had a photo diary of upgrading Jon Soucek’s garden, in Avon, Ohio into something resembling the Taj Mahal. It was a fabulous time!

photo Carol Brashear

photo Roger Kinchen

Concrete spheres

Hosta College vending

Here is what Roger Kinchen recalled of his 2010 Hosta College trip:

   As the plane landed Friday afternoon, the excitement was building. I knew it would not be long before my “taxi” (Mary Bardens) arrived.  I had just left New Hampshire and spring had yet to arrive. Outside, Ohio was no closer to spring than New England but once I crossed the threshold of Hosta College I found myself engulfed by vendors with new and old varieties of hosta for sale. Many had companion plants, like Japanese maples, Heucheras, ground orchids and Hellebores for sale.
   As I meandered through the tables of garden implements and shrubs trying to decide what to buy, I ran across a slew of friends with warm hugs and big smiles. Many are famous among the hosta groupies like Ron Livingston, Brian and Virginia Skaggs, and Indiana Bob to mention a few. Conversations started and we all began moving to the auditorium for the BIG event…the HOSTA COLLEGE AUCTION, where new, rare and one-of-a-kind plants are auctioned off to the highest bidder. It is easy to get involved and get the chance to bring home some spectacular plants. 
   The excitement from the auction was still in high gear as everyone headed back to the hotel for Hostatality. This is a time-honored tradition of gathering with friends to catch up on the news and gossip. You learn which new plants everyone is looking for and what they are crossing with what cultivar in their hybridizing program, or if the conversation leads to garden difficulties, you may learn a trick to get rid of voles.  Finger food and beverages flow freely with all the chatter. Many head back to their rooms just before daybreak to prepare for the six classes in which they have enrolled for the day. 
   This year my first class of the morning was grafting. A class on conifers and Japanese Maples followed by lunch. Before returning to class, I stopped by to get raffle tickets that would be drawn just before last class. After classes ended, everyone checked to see what hostas were won in the raffle and then dashed down to vending to grab the goodies not won in the raffle before vending closed. 
   Overflowing with joy with all my newly acquired plants, it was time to head back to the hotel for a quick nap and shower before returning to enjoy the Banquet and guest speaker. After enjoying dinner, it was head over to the hotel for the last night of hostatality and final farewells to those that headed back home Saturday night. Sunday morning brought the remaining gangs together at the Cracker Barrel for more good-byes and hugs. All too soon I was sadly back on the plane and heading  to snow covered New England but already planning my return trip for next year!!
A College tradition - the paving stones   Mary Bardens holds down the raffle table

   Kathie Sisson and Barbara Jones were invited from the East to team up with Carolyn Schaffner to teach a judges clinic. When an attendee volunteers to teach a course, they give up some of their own time and don’t attend classes for that period. The judge’s clinic that Kathie, Barbara and Carolyn taught took up 2 class periods in order to further the knowledge of AHS judges for leaf and hosta shows.



I asked Carolyn Shaffner about her experiences at Hosta College:

CB - Which Judges Clinic did you offer at Hosta College 2010?
Carolyn - We taught Clinic II ... a two hour class (two HC sessions) covering the duties of the various Chairs in the Hosta Show Committee, and judging and point scoring Hosta in Containers -- (1) single hosta, (2) hosta arranged for effect (combinations of companions and/or several varieties of hosta) and (3) trough gardens.
CB - Is this the first year anyone did a judges clinic at HC? 
Carolyn - No, several years ago, Jim Wilkins taught classes when they were trying to standardize the content of the clinics. BUT this was the first time a Clinic was held at Hosta College using the "new" handbook, established under Harold McDonell, the former AHS VP of Judging.
Tom Micheletti gives a class
Joanna Kovalcsik (top), Brian & Virginia Skaggs 
CB - How many students took your class? 
Carolyn - I don't remember specifically, but perhaps 10 to 15. People can take the clinic without asking for credit as a judge. I wish more people would take it to understand what judges look for and how to prepare for a Show, both in volunteering for a chair position at a local society show, and in entering  their 
own leaves, containers and troughs in local and national Hosta Shows. We had a great class!
CB - Will you be back to do clinics again next year?
Carolyn - We're holding the same Clinic II in March at Hosta College 2011. 

Carolyn - And here’s a scoop!  Hosta College in 2012 may have a Junior Hosta College! Details are still being worked out, but the idea is to offer classes to juniors 12-16, with an interest in gardening and special focus on hostas. Tuition for the junior classes would be free with an accompanying paid adult. If there is interest in this being offered at Hosta College, organizers need to hear from people. They can contact me (Carolyn) at or any of their local Great Lakes Regional reps. The organizers are planning a survey at HC 2011 to find out the level of interest in this youth program.

CB - Thank you Carolyn

   I didn’t cross paths with any of the 3 other Northeasterners except at lunch. We all met to have dinner together and catch up Saturday evening. Next thing we knew, the day was complete and it was goodbye to all friends hosta until the next national get-together. Barbara Jones headed out with Carolyn for their drive back to Buffalo and then onto Massachusetts alone. Roger Kinchen disappeared into the clouds to return to New Hampshire, and Kathie Sisson and I strapped ourselves into the SUV to trek the 600 + miles back across 4 states and return to Connecticut. We jabbered all the way home about the fun we had and the ideas we were filled with for our own regional meeting.
   Regional meetings are small versions of the national convention with various venues and themes. For this group of Easterners, Hosta College was a real treat. I hope we can all do it again next spring, when sure as the sun comes up in the East and sets in the West, the Great Lakes Region of the AHS will again sponsor this wonderful event they call Hosta College. (The dates for Hosta College 2011 are March 11&12)  It’s a good thing! 

photos by Roger Kinchen unless otherwise credited

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