Each year during March, the Great Lakes Region (GLR) of the American Hosta Society hosts a garden symposium of approximately 350 enthusiastic gardeners from the Midwest and other parts of the US, Canada, and even Europe. This garden symposium is called Hosta College and traditionally takes place at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio.
GLR also supports an annual Tailgate event. Read more below.
Virtual Hosta College
Although Virtual Hosta College was more abbreviated in nature, it was a rewarding experience for all as we utilized the Zoom Video Conferencing Platform. We featured five wonderful teachers who prepared educational and interesting virtual presentations. There was no charge for this event. The classes ran back-to-back, with a five-minute break in between. Check out our 2022 Virtual Hosta College.
In-person Hosta College
Hosta College is a two-day event starting on a Friday evening with vendors and garden merchandise for sale. The hosta bookstore is open, ongoing hospitality and socializing, and an auction of rare and unusual hostas also open to the public. Learn more about our in-person Hosta College, presentations, classes, auctions, shopping, gift plants, and more!
The purpose of the Tailgate events is to bring our GLR society members together to enjoy local gardens, area attractions, and, of course, friendship. Previous Tailgates have had well over one hundred visitors, bringing members from other societies within the Great Lakes Region. A different Society hosts the Tailgate each year during the summer, offering garden tours, an auction, and a dinner gathering. It’s a weekend of adventure.
History of Hosta College
Sandy Wilkins has provided the following brief history of Hosta College.
“The country was divided up into regions in the late eighties, but many of them were large and none actually functioned as a region. I was appointed regional director in June of 1992. Upon consent of the AHS board, this new region, 4, was comprised of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. The idea was to have a region with similar growing zones and be close enough together that we could meet at least once a year.
I had the first board meeting in my home in Carmel, Indiana in October 1992. Each society in the region sent delegates based on the size of the membership of the club. INDIANAPOLIS HOSTA SOCIETY, Bob Whitmore, Randy Goodwin, Sally Murphy. MICHIGAN HOSTA SOCIETY, Jim Wilkins, Clarence Owens, Jim Dishon, John Kulpa. HOSTAS OF KENTUCKIANA, Kathy Lowrey. GREATER CINCINNATI HOSTA AND DAYLILY SOCIETY, Gila Hawk. We only had four active societies at that time.
We decided to have a Regional Meeting in March. We would be at a Days Inn in Dayton. The theme was Shakespeare on Hostas and run like other events, with attendees staying in one room and listening to different speakers.
The next October, at our second meeting, I suggested the name Hosta College and everyone jumped on board, adding their own creative touches. Every year it seems to get better and better.”*
The first Hosta College was held the next year, 1993, in Dayton, Ohio at the Comfort Inn. It was attended by 68 students. Five teachers taught classes in the same large room. In our second year, fifteen classes were offered. Students could choose three classes to attend. For several years, students received a “Hosta College diploma” for attending.
In an effort to find a place large enough to accommodate a growing number of students, Marcia Niswonger found the Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio. In 1995 Hosta College held classes at Upper Valley for the first time. With all the new space available, Hosta College grew in student population and class offerings.
By 1996, there were 150 attendees at Hosta College. Vending and a seedling contest were added, a first, “First Look” if you will. The following year “Park A Plant” was added and gave people the opportunity to store their treasures in a secure location for a nominal donation. This was a great idea and probably encouraged more vending sales. The growing success of Hosta College led to two lunch periods in 1997. There were too many people to be seated in the dining area at one time.
As the years passed, our “mentors” aged. In 1999, Herb and Dorothy Benedict attended Hosta College for their last time. For the “millennial” year, 2000, it was decided by the Great Lakes Board to give attendees for the first time a hosta. The first gift hosta was H. Great Lakes Gold. That began a tradition of giving gift hostas each year to attendees of Hosta College. It seems only fitting since hosta is “the friendship plant.” Many of us have made several new friends with our fellow students throughout the years.
“In 2013, almost 400 students attended Hosta College, with seventy classes to choose from and over fifty knowledgeable teachers graciously volunteering their time and energy. Although attendance has declined from a high of around five hundred attendees in the “middle years” (there were years when people were turned away due to space limitations), Hosta College is still going strong and shows no sign of additional decline. Here’s to twenty more years of Hosta College!**
* Sandy Wilkins
**Libby Greanya (as told to her by Sandy Wilkins and excerpts from an article Libby wrote for the “Hosta Journal” )
More History of Hosta College
By Marcia Niswonger, from a presentation to the Miami Valley Hosta Society in Sept 2017.
I want to take a little sidestep here to talk about Hosta College. It is such an important part of each and every Hosta Society in the Region. It certainly helped shape our society as we went along because I was on the GLR Board for 12 years. Actually, at the exact same time, Rita and I were trying to put our society together, Hosta College was in the works. It was an enormous undertaking to start the planning of this. The name Hosta College was the brainchild of Sandy Wilkins. She was the Director of the Great Lakes Region Hosta Society at the time. Her idea was that the Great Lakes Region would sponsor an event where all the Great Lakes Regions in five states would come together to attend classes on hostas and various other subjects. She wanted a bookstore offering great books at reduced prices. She had vending in mind so people could see and purchase the latest hostas and hostas you don’t find at your typical garden center.
We established the idea of a “hosta auction” with the latest and best hostas offered from some of the best hybridizers. And lastly, Sandy’s idea was that every teacher, everyone involved, would freely donate their time, expertise, and abilities. There was never a fee offered to teachers or anyone else. The only fee involved was for registration of attendees that covered a lunch and a banquet dinner on Saturday.
It was in 1993 at Sandy’s home that Rita and I had an invitation to come to the very first planning meeting to discuss the idea of Hosta College. Two members from each society in the region came together and it was an amazing meeting with incredible minds and talent coming together in one room. The bottom line…it was through the genius mind of Sandy Wilkins that the Great Lakes Region Hosta College was made into a reality. Sandy is truly a neat gal, a great friend and she and her husband Dr. Jim Wilkins have worked tirelessly for the Genus Hosta.I believe the Hosta world owes them a debt of gratitude for their commitment on the local level, the regional level, and the national level. They are amazing people.
The very first Hosta College took place in Dayton but the location was not ideal so after the second year they asked me to look for something in my area. I went first to Edison State College in Piqua and they told me there was a substantial charge for each room we would have to rent. They were talking up to a thousand dollars. Well…that was not feasible
But they suggested that I go right next door to the JVS. Can you imagine my elation when JVS told me that there would be absolutely NO CHARGE to use the facility? I could barely take that in and I know that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. And as I walked away from that meeting, I knew, we had found the place where the next Great Lakes Region Hosta College would take place. As it turned out, we have had a fantastic relationship with that school and it has put Piqua, Ohio on the map in the Hosta world.
Any of you who have attended Hosta College in our own little city of Piqua have had first-hand knowledge of how unique it is. It heralds spring for us every year and people from many states and overseas come together to renew friendships and attend classes and see the latest offering of hostas. Mike Shadrack came from England regularly to attend and speak. He is more than a little well known in the hosta world and Rita and I both claim him as a friend.
So here’s a little plug for Hosta College. It is a literal shopping paradise, especially for the novice hosta grower. Rita’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Fred and Rhonda Williams, whom some of you might know, actually sell Earth Worm Castings for composting in the vending area. The sales area has garden art, unique plant material, pottery, and myriad other offerings. In addition, the College can certainly boast of its great teachers and classes and it’s a place where wonderful friendships are made and renewed.
If you’ve not been there, come next March and see what all the buzz is about.
2/08/16 257 are registered the first weekend
2/13/16 284 members registered before opening to non-members
2/19/16 316 are registered the first weekend open to non-members
2/29/16 335 FINAL ENROLLMENT
2/05/17 250 are registered the first weekend
2/11/17 276 are registered before opening to non-members
2/12/17 304 are registered after the first weekend opened to non-members
3/01/17 359 FINAL ENROLLMENT
2/04/18 224 are registered after the first weekend
2/09/18 247 are registered before opening to non-members
2/18/18 319 are registered at end of the first week of non-members
3/02/18 351 FINAL ENROLLMENT – 76 NON-GLR MEMBERS REGISTERED
1/28/19 207 are registered after the first weekend
2/01/19 227 are registered before opening to non-members
2/08/19 238 are registered after the first week of non-members
2/23/19 321 FINAL ENROLLMENT – 62 NON-GLR MEMBERS REGISTERED
2020 CANCELED DUE TO COVID
2/03/20 221 are registered after the first weekend
2/07/20 238 are registered before opening non-members
2/15/20 300 are registered after the first week of non-members
3/1/20 323 FINAL ENROLLMENT – 66 NON-GLR MEMBERS REGISTERED
3/20/21 Hosta College was virtual via Zoom Webinar Format.
612 FINAL REGISTRATION – 290 NON-GLR MEMBERS