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Hostafficionados take root in Ashwaubenon

By Lee Reinsch

ASHWAUBENON – Set foot in a gathering of hosta adorers such as the American Hosta Society, and you’re just asking for trouble.

Your entire being, from your green thumb right down to your embarrassing chartreuse Crocs, will be overcome by the green-eyed monster.

Talk to just one hostafficionado, and you’ll begin to absorb the passion like fronds absorb sunlight.

Talk to two, and you’re feeling your feet grow roots.

A third, and you’re getting the urge to divide and share your metaphorical tubers with everyone you meet.

“We’re quite a crazy group,” said Jen Peterson, co-chair of the 51st annual national convention of the American Hosta Society, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Ashwaubenon June 12-15.

Peterson belongs to the Green & Gold Hosta Society, which hosted the national event.

It was the national organization’s first time in the Green Bay area.

The theme for the conference was “Hostaffinity.”

Peterson described a good-natured group that can get quite loopy in each other’s proximity.

“You should see us after a few hours together,” she said.

To the uninitiated, the idea that there could exist a bunch of folks who are passionate about this leafy lawn vegetation might sound unlikely.

After all, what on God’s green earth is there to love about these chubby shrub-like things?

They’re green. They grow. They sit there in the shade looking cool as Cool Hand Luke. (Which, by the way, they just might be: Cool Hand Luke is the name of one shiny-leafed hybrid.)

And what could 500 conferees from around the country and several foreign countries find to confer about when it comes to this quotidian plant? It comes in two varieties, plain green and the kind with white stripes. Right?


According to “The Hostapedia: An Encyclopedia of Hostas” by Mark Zilis, there are nearly 8,000 different kinds of hostas.

Hostas with names like Cat’s Meow, Apple Pie, American Bikini, Alligator Shoes, Banana Boat, Cheesecake, Teddy Roosevelt, Bud is Wiser and Alice in Wonderland.

And, like people, from a distance they look similar, but upon closer inspection, the more different they become.
Some kinds don’t grow much beyond the size of a coffee mug – they’re miniature hostas, with names like Cracker Crumbs and Mouse Ears.

Hosta collectors with small yards can fit many mini cultivars into their collections.

Others are humongous and fall under the giant category.

“Like the Empress Wu,” said Green & Gold member Gary Joslin. “That one can get to be six feet wide, with leaves this big.”

He spanned his arms to indicate a leaf several times bigger than his head.

Joslin served on the Hostatality Committee for this year’s AHS event.

Besides size, there’s leaf texture, pattern, color and shape.

Some hostas have leaves with crinkly or ruffled edges, white edges, or stripes. Some, like First Blush, have red veins.
Some have leaves with streaks.

“We call those streakers,” said hosta hybridizer Matt Bending of Kiel.

Bending created a hybrid that will be sold by North Carolina hosta wholesaler and retailer Green Hill Farm.

“It’s as yet unnamed,” he said.

Bending got into hosta hybridizing for the same reason some people knit potholders.

“I was looking for something to do in the winter,” he said.

For large hosta conferences, the host society commissions a hybrid especially for that event, which registered conferees can take home.

“You can’t get that kind anywhere in the world but at that one convention,” Peterson said.

Until, of course, those special hybrids mature enough to split and share with friends of attendees. Which is why the hosta is sometimes known as the friendship plant.

The hosta commissioned by Green & Gold for AHS is a medium-sized green-and-gold-leafed variety called Golden Harmony.

For the Midwest Regional Hosta Society gathering in 2014, Green & Gold commissioned the Cheesehead, a gold hosta.

Some hostas sprout white or light purple flowers. Flowers from fall-blooming varieties are scented, Peterson said.

Some in the hosta community have a love-hate relationship with the flowers. Some find them hideous, while others find them lovely.

Some believe the blossoms should be cut off so more plant energy goes to the bulb of the hosta, while others don’t pay much heed to that philosophy.

Many gardeners plant theme gardens based on the hostas’ names.

There are cheese-themed gardens (Green Cheese, Blue Cheese, Cheesehead hostas); music-themed gardens (Ukelele Lady, Tambourine, Dixieland Jazz, Abba Allegro, Metallica) and gem themes (Miss Ruby, Fire Opal, Aquamarine, Emerald Tiara).

There are hosta theme gardens for cardsharps, children’s book lovers, mythology buffs, Star Wars fans, Trekkies, athletes, political junkies, and pretty much everything else.

Some hostas can cost upwards of $1,000.

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