2012 - ...?

Hybridizing 2012-...?

A new goal

To me, growing new cultivars from seed will always remain one of the most fascinating aspects of the hobby. Blessed with a large dose of beginners luck I managed to get a number of good looking new cultivars from my very first OP seed attempts, in 2006-2007. It was a good result that wasn't reached during 2 other rounds of hosta from seeds I've tried since then.

Once bitten by the Hosta breeding virus, it won't let go any more.  Every Hosta hybridizer must have the same dream: growing the perfect hosta, the ultimate showstopper.

That will be the next challenge, the next goal: breeding a Hosta that will make people turn their head.  Just being gorgeous isn't enough; it must add something really new to the Hosta assortment, a package of traits that haven't been united before.

A different approach

Can we do it ? Well, not being a president I have to admit the odds are not good, but we have a Dutch expression: Like the hunter said, no shot fired is always a miss. Theoretically it's possible to achieve this goal by means of open pollination, but the chance of success would become virtually nil.  It seems like a sensible thing to do to put my experience and plant knowledge to good use and change over to hybridizing.

Also, it would wise to go about it as methodically as I possibly can.  I'll the project structure, a technique I'm familiar with professionally.

Step 1: Define the goal of the project

First I have to get a detailed picture of what I want to achieve.  The objective must be crystal clear: which types of plants do I want to create and how much time will this take. 

Time ?

Well, as soon as possible seems reasonable.  That means hybridizing and collecting seeds in 2012, growing the seeds in 2013 (due to major construction work on the house this year indoors seeding isn't an option next winter), first round of culling in 2015, final selection in 2017.  That's 5 years - a long time, but still reasonable.

These 2 rounds of culling will also be important milestones in the project.  Should the results be disappointing, that is the time to end the project (and start all over again ?).

Which types of plants do I want to create ?


Which are the most popular plant sizes with garden and hosta enthusiasts ? That a question for a professional hosta grower and seller?  I got the answers almost accidentally in the middle of a topic on seedling culling on the Hallsons Hosta Hybridizing Forum from Chris Wilson, the man behind Hallson Gardens.  He said customers (he thinks like a salesman of course) very often go for either extra large hostas or for minis.  A medium size hosta hast to be very special to become a real commercial success.

Target: growing one extra large hosta and one mini that look alike, except for size of course.

Which type do I not want

  • There's already a fair amount of giant hostas around.  Very many of them have a background that shows: H. 'Elegans' genes.  These cultivars very often have very large, almost round, blue leaves with a more or less thick layer of glaucous bloom and kept almost horizontal or slightly pendant on sturdy green to blue petioles.  This is the prototype of what I don't want.
  • Complete tribes of hybridizers are on the search of the holy hosta grail, a hosta with as much red as possible.  My plants must have red petioles, but that's only a very small part of the total package.
  • In my collection and among the Hosta Mill seedlings there are almost no variegated plants.  I won't start now to try and breed variegated plants, as this would make matters even more difficult.  It's about size and shape, a only a very little bit about colors.

What do I want ?

A giant that differs as much from the H. 'Elegans' type as possible seems like a nice starting point.  On the other side of the size scale a mini version with the same looks.

This seems like a good base to finetune the main objective of this project:

Final goal

The objective of this hybridizing project is, within a 5 year period, to create through hybridizingand to grow to maturity, an extra large and a mini hosta cultivar that are aesthetically and commercially represent of a very high quality and are clearly distinct from all other commercially available cultivars.  The project is concluded successful when a vast majority of garden- and hosta lovers considers these plants to be very beautiful and special.

The rusulting plant preferably are very much alike, apart from size.  They have the following characteristics in common:

  • plant shape: tight, tidy, upright;

  • growing speed: fast to moderate

  • petioles: intensely red, front and back

  • leaf shape: long ovate to even broad lancet; evenly rippled margin, if possible piecrust.  Leaf surface flat, not cupped, folded.

  • leaf color: the exact color isn't a goal, but it should stand out, be lively and shiny.  This de facto rules out blue (glaucous).

  • substance: thick to good

  • texture: flat, smooth, definately not corrugated

  • flowers: not a target.  Should two otherwise equally good seedlings occur, only then this could be a selection criterium.

The building stones: the parents

Using species or cultivars that are commercially available do ahve some disadvantages for hybridizers. In most cases it's impossible to realize the desired result in one generation.  And there is always the possibility other hybridezers are working along the same lines.  It must be highly frustrating to invest a lot of energy in a new cultivar, only to find out someone else beat you to it.  Very often the process of creating the desired result spans a couple of plant generations, with the own developments as the backbone of a hybridizing project.

That's the path I will take: the Hosta Mill seedlings may not be the result of a genuine hybridizing effort, but it would be dumb not to make good use of them, as some of them do unite a lot of the characteristics I would like to see in the new creations.  There's one shortcoming they all share: they are in the “medium” department, so a long way from the sizes I want.  Fortunately most of them are very fertile.

The H. longipes genes most of them ahve means they are late to flower.  Because I did not harvest any pollen last year, I will only be able to use them as pod parents.  The late blooming on the other ahdn gives me the chance to harvest pollen from potential pollen donors throughout the growing season.

Pod parents

There is already one certainty:

H. ‘Mill’s Trump Suit’

  • Strong points:
    • dense, tidy, regular upright growing habit;
    • fast growing rate;
    • sets seed readily;
    • intensely red petioles;
    • bright green, glossy to satin leaves;
    • leaf shap: fairly large, long ovate.
  • Weak points:
    • size = medium, but relatively high;
    • rather flat margin;
    • uninspiring inflorescense.

That's a pretty good package to start with.

Picking other possible pod parents will have to wait a bit, until all the seedlings have unfurled so they can be judged.

Pollen donors

Hierbij wordt gekozen voor aan de ene kant zeer grote tot grote cultivars, aan de andere kant mini's, die in de verzameling aanwezig zijn, met een bloeitijd voor of gelijktijdig met de Mill-planten en die - niet onbelangrijk - vruchtbaar zijn.  Het pollen wordt bij voorkeur vers gebruikt, indien nodig opgeslagen.

Voor extra large

  • H. 'Empress Wu':
    • + Plantgrootte, groeisnelheid
    • - Bladvorm, bladrand,geen rood in bladsteel, berijpt
    • Neutraal: dichtheid pol
  • H. 'Komodo Dragon'
    • + Plantgrootte, groeisnelheid, bladvorm, dichtheid pol
    • - Geen rood in bladstelen, berijpt
    • Neutraal: relatief goede bladrand
  • H. 'Niagara Falls'
    • + Plantgrootte, bladvorm, bladrand
    • - Groeisnelheid, geen rood in de bladstelen, dichtheid pol, bepoederd
  • H. 'Jade Cascade'
    • + Bladvorm, groeisnelheid, dichtheid pol, niet berijpt
    • - Grootte, bladrand, geen rood in bladstelen
  • Sagae
    • + Bladvorm, dichtheid pol, bladrand
    • - Geen rood in de bladstelen, berijpt
    • Neutraal: grootte
  • Big John
    • + Plantgrootte, niet bepoederd, groeisnelheid
    • - Geen rood in de bladstelen, dichtheid pol, bladvorm, bladrand

Het meest verwacht ik van Komodo Dragon: die heeft al een aantal kenmerken die ik in het resultaat ook wil. Alleen de rode bladsteel ontbreekt volledig en het blad mag wat smaller.
De andere wijken wat verder af, maar je weet maar nooit.

For the mini

  • - gracillima
  • - venusta

I do not have a lot of mini plants.  Venusta looks rather plain.  Gracillima has a bit more going for it, but I'm not very fond of its winged petioles.  General leaf shape is OK.  I can only hope the desired characteristics in Mom and Dad show in some of the offspring and the non-desirable ones are not dominant.