1982 Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award Address
by Alex J. Summers, Bridgeville, Delaware
Alex J. Summers is the first recipient of the "Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Award"*. The presentation was made at the June 12th Awards Banquet of the 1982 AHS National Convention, Raleigh, North Carolina. Here is his acceptance address wherein he gives the criteria for his choosing H. Pearl Lake as the "Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Hosta".
   It is indeed a pleasure to be honored with this award in my name and to become the first recipient of the award as well. Thank you very much.
   Some of you know that I was in the landscaping business for over 30 years with many plantings involving all types of plant material. Also, my collecting instincts predated this period with large collections of heathers and heaths, azaleas and rhododendrons, roses, tulips and daffodils, gladiolas, and about every rock garden plant in the book. These were not all present at the same time as the garden changed continually and gradually through the years.

   Some of these collections disappeared completely such as those of gladiolas, tulips, the heaths and heathers, and the collection of hardy cacti. Others survived in small numbers with a few azaleas and rhododendrons left of the many hundreds. A few of the dwarf conifers, some few rock garden items and a few roses also remained.
   Collections in later years were mostly fruiting trees and shrubs, all of which were berried items aimed at attracting the birds, and hundreds of perennials of which daylilies and hostas became the most prominent.
   Naturally these former collections were scattered all about as a result of my landscaping operation and it became a simple matter to find space for new items. What I did was simply sell off those items to be discarded, mix in some excess of those to be kept and make a pleasing arrangement with the necessary trees and shrubs for the main specimens. And this went on and on.
   My interest in hostas developed with my move in 1960 from Hempstead (Long Island), NY, to the village of North Hills, also on Long Island and near Roslyn which I used as my mailing address. There with nearly five acres I had about four acres more of garden space. No longer did I need to discard whole groups of plants to make room for new interests. However, there did come a time when I received a shipment of plants and did not find any available space. At its peak, the North Hills garden attracted eight different garden groups in one year. As space filled up and taxes doubled, thoughts of the future, with retirement a consideration, led me to Delaware in 1980 with over a hundred acres to play with.
   Through the years I've collected over 700 hostas with over three hundred having come from Japan. To select a particular single hosta for the distinguished merit award that bears my name is most difficult -- because I certainly will not pick one of my own. I wish further to state that for a hosta to suit my taste,

1. It must be a good landscape item,

2. It must have a profuse flowering habit,
3. It must have erect scapes, and
4. It must be a good grower, quickly making a large clump.

In other words, It must be impressive in plant habit and in flower. 

   As I walked into Bettie Jernigan's garden yesterday**, such a plant greeted us all. Not one but a whole group of a single hosta cultivar was used in a pleasing landscaping arrangement. This hosta was in full flower. At a glance it was evident that this plant's vigor would solve many landscaping problems. The hosta is 'Pearl Lake'***, and I have chosen it to be the "1982 Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Hosta".
   I might remark that I did not consider any variegated leaf hosta for this award because in my landscaping work I have found that quite a few customers would not accept any such plants. In fact, in quite a few cases I removed whole existing plantings of variegated hostas already on the premises.
   During my early years with very limited space in Hempstead, part of the area was planted in rows, and as one area was lower than the rest, I dug trenches the length of the rows. I filled these trenches with sod edgings and discarded perennials such as variegated hostas from clients' old landscaping. The hostas were buried upsidedown at least a foot in the ground and covered over with another foot of soil from the next trench. Surprisingly, some few managed to make it to the surface and continued to grow. In some cases when redoing old gardens (usually for new owners) I dig out the few straggly bushes and weekly mow with the rotary lawn mower to kill the hostas, usually H. undulata.
   In later years with ample space in North Hills, I planted these discards on my own premises and later sold them to other clients who did not object to hostas with variegated leaves.
   I predict that the present craze for variegated leaves will taper off, although it will never fully disappear. I particularly dislike some of the smeared and streaked foliage hostas, especially those with every leaf a slightly or completely different pattern. I believe -- and I'm sure that general non-gardening public will concur -- that they have no future in an average home landscaping picture. These unstable plants should never have been named and sold to the unsuspecting, who in looking for new hostas expected an improvement over the old. I wonder how many years will go by before these unstable plants get thrown away?
   I know that all of you hearing this will not agree. I do recognize that what one person likes another dislikes. Along these lines I recall the remarks of the late Mrs. Frances R. Williams years ago when I was particularly admiring her immense clumps of the then called H. sieboldiana 'Yellow Edge' and now called H. 'Frances Williams'****. She said some garden visitors told her the large clumps looked like a great big, coiled snake!
   Hostas with variegated leaves can, and do, have a place in landscapes. In my own plantings, I like some of the better variegated leaf types mixed in with green- and blue-leaved hostas. Also, hostas with pure yellow (gold) leaves are nice in small groups, but this can be overdone.
   Again, I thank you. It has been wonderful to be here with you.

 

* This award was initiated in 1982 to recognize a member of the American Hosta Society for having given outstanding service to: This award is to be presented biennially. Mr. Summers was cited for his outstanding service as the first president of the Society and the first editor of the AHS BULLETIN, and for his writings on the genus Hosta, contributions to clarify the nomenclature of Hosta, and introducing and cultivating many hostas of special merit. 

 
** The Jernigan garden in Dunn, North Carolina was one of the seven gardens on tour during the 1982 AHS National Convention.
 
*** A small-leaved plant that is somewhat similar to H. venusta. It was a favorite of the late David M. Stone, a good friend of Mr. Summers. The plant was introduced by Stone and Payne Nurserymen, Waterbury, Connecticut, now Piedmont Gardens, the firm of F. Henry and Phillip R. Payne. After announcing 'Pearl Lake' had received the award, Mr. Summers asked Henry Payne to stand in recognition.
 
**** See Constance Williams, "Hosta 'Frances Williams'" in this BULLETIN.

 

Editors' Note: The above article is reprinted verbatim from the 1983 issue of The American Hosta Society Bulletin, and all photos are from that issue. Since then there have been changes made in hosta nomenclature as well as changes in what is now considered a species. Older use as in this article should be considered incorrect in our time.
 
Though Alex lived another 26 years to the venerable age of 95, he never really came to like those "smeared and streaked" hostas or welcome them in his garden Honeysong Farm. He did soften quite a bit towards margined and centered plants, though.