I have been up all night trying to make this humble.
I owe pretty much everything to Hosta. My lovely wife Kathy, living in the U.S., the lifestyle that has given me. Scores and scores of lovely people. Thank you hostas. Thank you AHS.
Thank you too for giving me the opportunity to think back over the past 25 years or so and allowing me to share those thoughts with you this evening.
I am the second Brit. The previous British winner of the Alex Summers was Diana Grenfell and I am extremely honored to be up there with that lovely lady.
It is often said that we join for the plants but we stay for the people. I stayed for the gossip.
Hosta people are the most wonderful people out there.
The first time I ever visited Ann and Roger Bowden at their hosta nursery in Devon I pretty much forced myself on them at an inconvenient time. I ended up sharing their evening curry and staying the night in the spare room. These are the sort of people you meet in the hosta world.
The first time I was introduced to the then Journal Editor, Kevin Walek, it was the briefest of meetings.
We said hello and shook hands. The next time we met he was waiting for me at the airport and drove me to his home to stay for a few days before the D.C. Convention. These are the sort of people that inhabit the hosta world.
My first ever trip to the U.S. was for the Atlanta Convention in 1994. It would seem odd now but at Atlanta there were no vendors at the hotel. I arrived with a wish list from my English hosta friends. I went home with two hostas. But my real reason for visiting Atlanta was to ask George Schmid to sign my copy of The Genus Hosta. To my delight he graciously did just that. He is still wearing that Atlanta convention tee shirt.
It is a strange fact that the first time I met my dear English friend Tim ‘Keep Smilin’ Saville was at that ’94 Convention. There he was taking pictures of Hosta using a camera mounted on a tripod. A very important lesson for which I will be eternally grateful.
On the Atlanta trip I also meet two lovely ladies, Marcia Niswonger and Sandy Wilkins, who subsequently introduced me to Hosta College, still the most wonderful event on the hosta calendar. The pattern became two annual trips to the U.S. It soon became three trips as Kevin Walek introduced me to Hosta in Focus. The headline speaker was Diana Grenfell. Yes, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to hear my fellow Brit give a talk I had heard before. Crazy I know, but I also took with me some of the photographs that Tim had shown me how to take and that led to the collaboration with Diana and Timber Press that changed my life a little. I will be forever grateful to Diana Grenfell.
Hosta College actually changed my life totally. I had been a London cop for 32 years and had just retired. I then became a London tour guide.
Then one Friday evening at Hosta College I gave a talk about the Chelsea Flower Show and gave out fliers for my embryo tour company. Plantswoman Kathy Guest was in the audience. Sad to say I didn’t meet her that time, but a few months later she wrote and asked me to take a group of people from the Buffalo Botanical Gardens, where she was a board member, to the Chelsea Flower Show and to visit English gardens. A year later she helped me organize a second trip for that group and the rest, as they say, is history. Early on Kathy confused me. She told me she had a Buffalo ranch. Wow, I bought myself a General Custer hat, grew a mustache and everything only to discover that she meant a single story house. Too late, I was hooked. We married in 2003 and I became an alien.
We did lots of garden tours taking Americans to see English gardens and flower shows. We had fun. Kathy’s idea was to reverse the tours. The tour that became known as the Ring of Eire. We have taken American people to gardens and hostas in England, France, Holland and Belgium. We have taken English and Dutch folks to hosta gardens in America and Canada.
Since Atlanta I have been lucky enough to have only missed one AHS national convention and along the way I have met so many wonderful people. On one occasion early on I traveled from the airport in the shuttle bus with Olga Petryszyn. Olga Petryszyn! I was smitten. On arrival at the hotel, I hugged more people than I knew in England.
Men in the Shadrack family have always died way too young. Some in wartime but mostly just died. For a long while I expected to go early and in my mid fifties I began to turn the gas down. But in a short time I met, independently, three men who told me how foolish I was being and who, by example, showed me how to get off my butt and do stuff.
Van Wade, Jim Wilkins, Ran Lydell.
Van, God bless him, told me that I had to work hard, not waste time, get out there, get it done and be generous and kind along the way. Jim Wilkins told me that if you set your mind, you can do what you want to do even though it may seem difficult. He also cured my flaking scalp but that is another story.
Ran Lydell told me that you need projects and new ideas to keep you active. Ran and I now both have enough projects to last us a decade or two more.
Actually I am doing rather well on that front these days. Which is lucky. I can recall in the early ’90s Bob Solberg telling me that there would be a red hosta in my lifetime. Bob, you need to hurry. But they might be ‘almost’ there.
I began my intimate connection with The American Hosta Society when Kevin Walek asked me to chair a new Strategic Planning Committee. We did very well for a few years, asked many searching questions and provided a few important answers. In my view the best thing we did was to re-invent the AHS newsletter that was mailed, hard copy to every member.
A couple of years later Larry Tucker trapped me between the fireplace and a sofa in Connie Linder’s living room and asked me to be VP Publications. There was no way out. After serving my time with the erudite, persuasive and sometimes pedantic Journal Editor Bob Olson and the infinitely talented Janet Mills, I was moved on to VP Awards and Honors for a few years. Being part of this organization is amazing. Together we did some really good things, survived some very turbulent storms and enjoyed many mutual highs.
Volunteer to be part of the organization of this great Society. The rewards for a little time and effort are massive and you will always treasure the friends you make, learn so much and have fun.
During our time together Kathy and I have created an interesting garden on a wonderful piece of property in the hills south of Buffalo, now known as Smug Creek gardens, and together we wrote the Book of Little Hostas for Timber Press.
A little about the city of Buffalo. Most of you will think of it as a rust belt city under 6 feet of snow for half the year. It really is not like that and I have grown to love it.
In Buffalo gardening is huge. It is the lead city in the U.S. for gardening tourism. We have the largest and most successful garden walk in the U.S. with over 400 gardens open for a weekend in July. There are 17 other suburban local gardens walks during the summer and in addition 70 or more private gardens are open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays in July. Other green activities occur in a month long gardening festival. We regard gardening as the opposite of blight. Encouraging people to garden, to beautify their property improves not only their lives but raises the image of the community in which they live.
Buffalo also has a parks system designed by Frederick Law OImsted that is slowly being returned to exactly the way he designed it.
And we have a wonderful hosta society. On the firm foundation laid by Carolyn Schaffner we run a very successful hosta club. One that has increased its membership substantially over the last decade and continues to add new members pretty much monthly. We work very hard at it. Our club is based on two premises: personal contact and giving away stuff.
Yes, we have hosta meetings, hosta newsletters, hosta shows, a hosta website and hosta sales but we also have hosta breakfasts, hosta teas, hosta calendars, hosta picnics, hosta bucks, hosta flashes, hosta forums and hosta open gardens.
The most important thing is the realization that yes, you can find all the information you want and need on the Internet but nothing can replace personal contact and being together as a group. We talk to people, we devise many and various ways where people come together, talk together and socialize.
I have so enjoyed my time as a member of The American Hosta Society. Highlights, there have been a few….
At Hosta College yelling out “rubbish” while Doug Beilstein was talking at the banquet (actually I’ve done that lots of times when he has been talking).
Taking Barbara and Robert Tiffany and Warren and Ali Pollock to Holland to meet Marco Fransen and all the tulips. Lovely people all. The first time I was aware of Warren Pollock was in the garden of Alex Summers at Honeysong Farm. Warren was surrounded by a group of acolytes, teaching them how to correctly pronounce the name Abiqua or is it Abiqua, I never really knew. Several years later, Warren’s grandson, Michael, was studying in London and Warren instructed me to take him out and show him my city. You can’t say “No,” so I drove downtown to pick him up. As I approached the enormous student hostel I realized that I had no idea what Michael Pollock looked like. I need not have worried. As I entered the foyer I found Michael standing on a chair instructing a large group of students how to pronounce London street names.
With Marcia Sully and Mark and Katie Zilis visiting Pete Ruh and presenting him with the AHS Lifetime Achievement Award.
Walking through The Savill Garden in England with Jim Wilkins. He was then the President of the AHS and I was the chairman of the British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society. In the distance we spotted a strange hosta and walked up to it. We didn’t know what it was. Jim said “I don’t know what it is.” I said, “I don’t know either.” A little old lady walking past with her little old dog shouted, “It’s a hosta” and contemptuously walked on.
At 3:00 in the morning picking the lock of the hotel room housing the hosta show so that C.H. Falstad and I could take photographs undisturbed.
Being present at Hosta College when an emotional Herb Benedict and Dorothy asked us to christen Hosta the “Friendship Plant.”
Taking Van and Shirley Wade, Dick and Jane Ward, Harold and Kathy McDonell, Marcia Sully, Dianne Giordano, Marco Fransen and many others to visit Prince Charles’ garden in England. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the future King of England is a hostaphile.
An English plant, ‘June’, won the first Benedict Medal. We were able to reunite the staff of Neo Plants who produced it, including the young lady who discovered H. ‘June’, and her mother June, and to present her with the medal. It was a wonderful day.
I have always tried to be an ambassador for everything British. If it wasn’t for the Brits you would not have the Tardianas, golf and the iPhone. Shame on you if you don’t have a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I have also tried to be an ambassador for The American Hosta Society. Kathy and I spread the word at every opportunity.
The hosta plants are important. Hostas are beautiful. We joined for the plants. There are many good reasons why the hosta is America’s biggest selling perennial plant.
There are many excellent hybridisers too, producing a wonderful variety of new and improved plants. Many of them are in this room and we thank you for the constant stream of good stuff you produce that we must have in our gardens. The hybridiser to whom I was closest and really admired was Bob Kuk. Bob died way too young but not before he had produced many garden-worthy hostas. Bob’s methods were different to most, pollinating cut blooms lined up in vases of sugar water on the kitchen table and planting the resulting seeds in near dark conditions, but didn’t he produce some good hostas. H. ‘Queen Josephine’, named for his mother. H. ‘Emerald Necklace’ named for the parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Bob registered 59 plants including ‘Rock and Roll’.
Bill Haley and the Americans gave the Brits Rock and Roll. John Bond and the Brits gave America ‘Great Expectations’. Fitting that Bob Kuk should combine them to produce my Alex J. Summers Distinguished Merit Hosta ‘Mike Shadrack’.