Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
August is for ..... the sounds of a summer night.
If you are reading this in the evening, step outside and just listen. The
din is amazing. A chorus of nocturnal creatures is serenading us, many
singing in their own unique voice, just as individual people each have a
different sound or tone when they talk.
This summer more than ever I have really appreciated the richness, depth and
beauty of an evening’s summer sounds. Trying to distinguish which animal is
vocalizing what is not easy for my untrained ear; music was never my strong
point other than listening to it loudly (just ask my neighbors) and often.
Indiana Dunes State Park naturalist Celeste Lewis said she grew up in the
woods and as a child thought the persistent buzzing sound she heard at night
was from electrical power lines. “Now I know they’re insects,” she
Male cicadas emit a steady hum through an organ on their thorax. Katydids
hear each other through “ears” in their legs. Crickets rub their forewings
together and in Asia were kept as caged pets. Frogs are said to sound like a
plucked banjo string three or four times in succession, said Lewis, while
toads sing in a long musical trill.
Other animals also get into the act. The whip-poor-will and night hawk join
the chorus as do the screech, great-horned, barn and barred owls, all
looking for their evening’s meal. Lewis said the great-horned owl is a
silent stalker and can see the equivalent of a birthday candle in a football
More so these last few years than in the past, many in the Duneland area are
hearing coyotes in the night as well, their plaintive howl both exciting and
All these animals are communicating, some with a greater sense of urgency
than others: looking for a mate, warning an interloper to stay away, or
trying to lure the unsuspecting into a fatal trap.
It would be fun to eavesdrop on the animal world and their nocturnal
exchanges (“Hey, baby, my pad is cool and moist and this frog ain’t no dog,”
or something like that.) But paybacks are hell and I don’t want some fly
blabbing all over the insect neighborhood what my friend Donna and I were
gabbing about on the phone, so it’s probably better to leave well enough
Let’s talk gardening. This summer I and fellow members of the Hosta and
Friends Garden Club were fortunate to visit two great places well worth the
trip, Kingwood Center in Mansfield, Ohio and the Wade & Gatton Nurseries in
nearby Bellville. For gardeners, especially hostaphiles, Wade & Gatton is
heaven on earth.
Their 509-page mail order catalog (available at 419-883-3191) is
mind-boggling in itself, but the actual nursery --- in addition to
perennials and unusual trees, conifers and shrubs --- boasts well over 1,000
varieties of potted hostas for sale. In all on site there are over 2,000
different varieties to buy or see. Where else can you find the hosta ‘Bud is
Wiser,’ a white-centered blue?
W & G also has nearly 2,000 different daylilies, a large percentage for
sale. A quick aside about the daylilies: I looked and looked along row after
row and finally found a gorgeous iridescent melon/peach that opened in an
unusual shape, but there was no tag. When I went to check out the salesgirl
found it --- the daylily was ‘Dance Ballerina Dance’ and I’ve had it here
for years. What are the chances of that?
W & G owners Van and Shirley Wade have surrounded their home with acres of
display gardens so you can see a mature form of many of the plants,
especially hostas, they sell. All day long there are people walking around
their house, through their yard, down their sidewalks and past their doors.
This is how strong the Wades’ commitment to horticulture is.
According to local amateur hosta hybridizer Dave Stegeman, “If you could
diagram people you’d want to meet and God made them, it’d be Van and Shirley
The first time I saw Van was at a Winter Scientific Hosta Meeting in
Schaumburg two years ago. People were so respectful of him I thought someone
was going to kneel and kiss his ring.
At this year’s scientific meeting I was in line for the buffet lunch and
turned around and Van and Shirley were in front of me. We chatted briefly,
but when at W & G last month I purposely sat at Van’s table as he joined our
tour group for box lunches at a picnic shelter on his nursery grounds.
We talked about his getting bids to paint their historic 1890 home with five
porches, and how the economy is down and the large commercial developments
nationwide for which his nursery supplies huge trees (some over 3,000 pounds
each) are now few and far between. We also talked about the future of
“We are on the leading edge of technology,” said Van. “We need to encourage
what’s going on.” Regulated gene splicing in the plant world is yielding
encouraging results, he said, like putting herbicide resistance into
soybeans. The younger generation should be encouraged to study the
biological sciences and join this important work, he added, and local garden
clubs can help by donating money for scholarships and research.
While it may seem a minor victory to increase the number of chromosomes in
daylilies (from diploids to tetraploids) to achieve better color and
substance, markings and form, much can be learned by improving the process
of how this is done so the science can be applied to other areas of
horticulture to improve our quality of life, like healthier more-productive
Hosta hybridizers are starting to convert hostas to tetraploids, said Van,
to produce heavier leaves and bigger, better flowers. An example of the
ongoing work is ‘American Sweetheart,’ which I purchased to help the cause;
its leaves, white streaks on green, are thick, waxy and lovely despite our
current heat and dry spell.
Van praised the efforts of amateur hybridizers “Indiana” Bob Balitewicz of
Jackson Township, and Brian and Virginia Skaggs of Lake County for helping
push the hosta envelope to improve the genus.
Some purists question whether it’s nice to fool Mother Nature. The day we
were at W & G there was quite a buzz over the ‘Hart’s Tongue’ hosta that Van
sells, its long narrow leaves looking more like its true fern namesake than
a hosta. On the opposite ends of the spectrum, visitors were talking about
‘Blue Mouse Ears,’ a new mini-hosta, and the giant ‘T Rex’.
Van is known for growing hostas unusually large. He shared with us the
likely secret why his ‘Sum and Substance’ swelled to 130 inches wide one
year --- he buried a ground hog near it. Thanks, but I’ll stick with Miracle
I’ve never dabbled at hosta hybridizing, but I’m watching a “sport” or
natural mutation of my gold hosta ‘August Moon,’ one individual clump or
crown of which has a bold deep green streak on each leaf. I’ll dig and
separate the crown from the rest, replant it and cross my fingers. Next
year, the streak could be gone. Then again ....
I burned rolls of borrowed film (thanks to Kelly Miller) at W & G, but the
best pictures were taken along the side of the Wades’ home where a
collection of trial hostas, some one-of-a-kind, are held for evaluation.
“Plants on these walks and patio are under close evaluation and are not for
sale yet. Many are new!” a sign reads.
Especially eye-catching was a lily-of-the-valley with white-striped leaves,
and what appeared to be a dark curly spinach-looking hosta ‘Whipper Snapper’
with a narrow white stripe down its midrib.
At Kingwood Center, the look was manicured and marvelous. Acres of gorgeous
gardens surround a pioneer Mansfield industrialist’s house, which now serves
as an information center and gift shop; a few of the rooms are historically
furnished and on view. There’s also a large greenhouse conservatory, a pond,
statuary, an arbor structure, hidden garden rooms and a plant sale area.
Coincidentally, in March I heard Kingwood Center horticultural director
Chuck Gleaves speak at the LaPorte County Master Gardeners’ symposium. His
remarks mirrored his work at Kingwood, where ducks, guinea hens and peacocks
are an unexpected bonus.
“One thing I want from a garden is feeling I’m enclosed, immersed in the
garden,” he said. Arbors and tall plants along a path convey this sense.
Gleaves also advocated locating tables and benches within the garden, not
outside looking in. “The garden is for you, not just your neighbors or for
you to look at from the house.”
Perennials give a garden a sense of fluidity annual beds lack, said Gleaves.
Although they need more attention, as each perennial variety flourishes,
then ebbs, motion in the garden is realized. It may take years to perfect
fluidity, but the effort is worth it, he said. “It a craft to know your
plants well enough to know what will work in coordination with each other.”
A successful garden also has presence, according to Gleaves. Big plants in a
small space make it dynamic and exciting. “You should be an extrovert,
outrageous with your garden. Have fun. Do something people will gasp at.”
Planting pockets along one Kingwood brick path are filled with huge standard
hibiscus with bold green and white leaves, so eye-catching the coral flowers
are almost incidental.
“Go ahead and do it,” urged Gleaves, whose staff plants 40,000 tulip bulbs
each year. “Don’t be cautious. Being overly-cautious prevents you from doing
Like buying a $25 hosta named ‘Bud is Wiser,’ perhaps?