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Gardening and More: Why an Indiana hosta hybridizer named a plant for Niagara Falls

PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN GARDENER – The ruffled edge, deep ribs and angle of the leaf on the hosta ‘Niagara Falls’ suggest cascading water. It is part of an American-themed series of hostas by Olga Petryszyn, a world renowned hosta hybridizer. Photo by Vanessa Chab.

NIAGARA FALLS — Olga Petryszyn, a world-renowned hosta hybridizer, has a series of American-themed hostas. Her first was a hosta she named Niagara Falls.

“I love to be an American,” she said.

Petryszyn talked to me in a phone interview from her home in Indiana, before addressing a meeting of the Western New York Hosta Society, this fall.

Niagara Falls came from one of the first crosses she made, which was between “Montana macrophylla” and “Sea Drift.”

“Sea Drift had a beautiful ruffled edge,” Petryszyn explained, “and Montana was large, with a deeply ribbed, cascading leaf. The idea was to put a ruffled edge on that leaf.”

A friend suggested the name Niagara Falls, and Petryszyn said the name was perfect. The leaves definitely suggest flowing water. Niagara Falls won the 2012 Benedict Medal for Outstanding Garden Worthiness.

Other hostas in her American series include “Dawn’s Early Light,” which is a vivid, lemony yellow that is almost iridescent.

“Blue Hawaii,” named for it bluish color, and “Coal Miner,” which, in the right light, looks as if it has been sprinkled with coal dust.

The names of her hostas show “my love of my parents and love of my country,” the gardener said.

In 2013, Petryszyn received the Eunice Fisher Outstanding Hybridizer Award from the American Hosta Society and, as part of the award, was allowed to declare which hosta is her favorite. She chose “Brother Stefan,” which she named for her brother on his 50th birthday.

Their parents were from Ukraine and were captured and held in slave camps in Germany, during World War II, before coming to the United States. Stefan was born in Germany.

Although Stefan wasn’t born in the United States, “he’s my absolute American hero,” Petryszyn said. “Our parents died young and he watched over me, growing up.”

While the stories behind the plants are fascinating, gardeners love hostas because of how they perform in the garden.

“Hostas are so sculptural,” Petryszyn said. “Weeds don’t grow underneath. They’re very forgiving, in heat and drought. They’re great, if you need an instant landscape.”

While hostas appeal to many gardeners because they’re great shade plants, there are some hostas that tolerate sun, she noted.

Finally, Petryszyn likes how hostas look in the landscape.

“They grow out horizontally,” she said. “They give a serene look; it creates a place of calm. They’re not jumping all over, like a patchwork quilt. They provide elegance and formality.”

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email Connie@BuffaloNiagaraGardening.com.
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