Alex Summers RevisitedSaturday, May 30, 2009
In 1967 Alex Summers was turning the crank of a mimeograph machine inside the little office of the American Penstemon Society. He had been lured by some friends for the job. It ocurred to him that he did not like penstemons nor was he interested in publishing a journal on them. So he founded the American Hosta Society in the next year. He has not looked back. The AHS is one of the healthiest of the American plant organizations and their journal, The Hosta Journal, is a glossy publication, thick and full of useful information and illustrated with full colour photographs of hostas at their peak. The once a year national conventions are attended by hosta enthusiasts from all over the world. In the 1992 convention in Columbus, Ohio I met Alex for the first time. It took me a while to figure out that his trademark mumble camouflaged intelligence, erudition and garden knowledge second to none. He took me under his wing and gave me advice that I have never forgotten and always apply. He said:
"A garden must have three important elements. They are elevation, shade and water. And you must make sure you can hear it."
"It takes a year to plan and design a garden. You need a year to build it. You wait three years for it to mature. On the 6th year you enjoy it. In the seventh it declines. You start from scratch on the 8th." I photographed Alex in his farm in Bridgeville, Delaware. At the time his charming wife, Gene was alive. Alex here poses with a leaf of Hosta 'Aurora Borealis'. He insisted that Hosta 'Frances Williams' was this one and no other.
American Hosta Society
I wrote the above here back in the first year of my blogs. A few weeks ago I received a communication from the art director of the American Hosta Society Journal that Alex Summers had died and that they wanted to use the picture you see here (a b+w version) on the cover. Of course I felt honoured while feeling sad for the loss of a friend. The last time I saw him in Washington DC his trademark mumbling was at its worst and nobody seemed to want to sit next to him on the bus tours of the DC hosta gardens. Rebecca innocently sat next to him and somehow they got along just fine. Since this happened five years ago Rebecca's memory of Alex Summers is beginning to fade. But I know that someday with a bit of reinforcement she will remember and know that she met a great garden man. It was only today that I pointed at a beautiful hosta in my garden and Rebecca said, "That's Hosta 'Alex Summers'.
The art director of the Hosta Journal chose the picture because, "Can you imagine? Alex is wearing an unbuttoned shirt!" We all knew he was a sexy man.