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Walmart hostas and beyond

  • Subject: Walmart hostas and beyond
  • From: Giboshiman@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2001 16:22:54 EDT

I am out of town and thus am only getting on line sporadically, as the opportunity presents itself, but before the thread is gone I wanted to get my 2 cents in the discussion and possibly generate some constructive thought and criticism with the energu that is in these groups.  I am trying to provoke further thought on this subject in different aspects of its impact and do not intend to cause any flames, but sometimes provoking thoughts can provoke other emotions.  That is not my intention, but here goes:

I have been following the recent discussion of Wal-Mart Hostas with great interest and must applaud Dan for some of the comments he made, but all have made some very salient points.  I come at this issue from several different perspectives and find it interesting that each angle sees the issue  in a different light.

First, as a firm believer in the purpose of the National and my local hosta society to educate the public about hostas and to encourage, make that, expand, the use of hostas in the landscape.  I am pleased that people are buying more hostas wherever they find them.
I also share, to some extent Chick’s perspective, that most people buying hostas at Wal-Mart want a $10 gold hosta, and they don’t care what it’s name is they just want a gold hosta for a particular place in the garden.  And, as hard as it to believe they don’t even care if they now the name and further, they don’t put labels on there plants creating thw collector’s garden appearance of a “mouse graveyard.”

Second, as the President of a local hosta club that has raised 90 percent of its operating revenue from plant sales, I am troubled by the competition from new sellers who are obtaining their stock from questionable sources, foreign and domestic.  They are often seriously misnamed, and the persons selling them have little or no knowledge of their growing conditions.  I have heard them telling people that the fragrant hostas are best in the deepest shade!  Yes, really!

I know it sounds strange to complain about “competition” as we effectively take some business away from Chick and other hosta specialists in our area.  But there is a difference, we have limited supplies of a limited variety of mid-range hostas.  Once the purchasers become club members and learn more, and want more, we send them to people like Chick, or Azalea Patch, or mail order nurseries like Eagle’s Nest and Naylor Creek, etc.

What I am objecting to is the sale of misnamed, poorly grown plants, with inadequate instruction of how to grow the plants.  I got up my nerve at the last “arboretum style”, multi-vendor sale (which is the norm for us to participate in), and asked the vendor how he got into selling hostas, and he said, he likes these style sales, somewhat like farmer’s markets, and he heard from friend’s that the hosta club was making a bundle at it so it was a good area in which to get rich quick. It is interesting to note that we have dropped a couple of these sales because we were not making that much and we decided to concentrate on two or three big sales and save our volunteers and now there are two “get rich quick” vendors cutting each others throats, (oh, how I like irony!).

I then asked him how he felt about giving people incorrect information about growing hostas and he said that most of them wouldn’t remember him and probably would remember that the hosta club sold them a hosta once or twice and take any complaints to the hosta club.  In fact, he is right, several people have complained that the Hosta “X” that they bought from us died, or  that the Hosta “Y” didn’t get as big as we said it would.  Well, the most interesting fact, after checking the past five years sales lists, is that we never sold Hosta “X” or “Y”.  But we have offered to help them out.  Again trying to help “educate”.  Luckily many of these people have come back after that trusting us after we fixed someone else’s mistake.  This may be why some people are willing to pay Chick or Gary more for their service.

Third, as a hybridizer/introducer of new (and hopefully better) hostas into the marketplace, I am concerned that after two years the large scale TC houses, many of which are off-shore, have TC’ed my intro, are competing with me and due to their less than precision driven, “culling method” (if they even have a culling method), are selling inferior versions of the plant with my name on it.  I have seen this happen and people say to me my ‘Dream Weaver’ reverted after one season, or as I have seen with my good friend Rick Thompson’s ‘Striptease’, there are now 5 versions, with some never getting one or two of the center coloration phases, and one version that invariable reverts on the second flush – yes the second flush of the first season!

Fourth, I just judged a show in Pittsburgh, (with Ran Lydell and Bill Zumbar).  We had to “disqualify” a number of plants that were not entered under the correct cultivar name.  For example, an all gold version of H. ‘Gold Standard’, that is right – no green edge.  I noticed that a large number of these plants were entered by the same person and concerned that they might need to check their labels or that their labels were mixed up, I sought that person out.  Guess what, they said they bought the plants in question at Wal-Mart, Home Depot and “81” Lumber.  They never questioned the correctness of the naming, and here she entered a show and had I not sought her out to help her she might never have known why she did so poorly.  Initially she was embarrassed but by the time I was done talking to her she had a renewed sense of the importance of being a member of a club that would help her and not make fun of her errors.

So where is all this leading, I think it underscores the need for us to not waste our energy complaining about what Wal-Mart is, or is not, selling but rather that we use this energy to become better educators of those who want to be educated.  We may differ some on how to accomplish this but I think it that should be our goal.

As hard is it might be to believe, this was the intent, if not the result of the “Preferred Growers” idea.  One problem with that idea, among many others that some on this robin could list, is that the “carrot and stick” approach was poorly thought out.  The underlying purpose however, was to provide an indicator, that the public would understand, that certain growers were trying to be honest and selling “true to name” hostas.  One of the reasons that more educated hosta growers go to Gary, and Ran, and Chick, and to a lesser degree the local clubs, is that they feel that they can trust these sources to give them what they bargained for, by name and quality.

I have two challenges I would like to make.  I would love to see this group, with its combined membership of growers and collectors, come up with a better way to handle the idea of a “Good House Keeping” seal of approval (and I am not using approval in the meaning that if you are not “approved” you are bad, but rather that it means that I try to sell only true-to-name, well-grown hostas).  The second challenge is to come up with better ways to educate the public about hosta.  The Hosta Adventure is the start of what I and I believe CH would like to see the American Hosta Society focus on in the near future.

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