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Frances Williams and Her Garden Adventures

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148 j IFrances Williams and HerGarden AdventuresSome plant lovers find adventure in far-away places, on distantmountains and in wild valleys, or in ancient exotic gardens.Others, although they may dream of these alluring spots, areable to find adventure at their doorsteps. Frances Ropes Wil-liams was one of the stay-at-homes, in Winchester, a suburbof Boston. But on her small property of only a third of an acre,shaded by several large trees, she gardened for many years, firstin the time she could spare from her growing family, then,when her children were grown, much more intensively.Mrs. Williams was a graduate of the Massachusetts Instituteof Technology in landscape architecture, and her studies there,she said, gave her a background in horticulture. (How manylandscape architects can say that of their training? ) She wasin her middle years when she entered into the concentratedphase of her gardening adventure, and she tackled it with akeen and observant mind, and, apparently, with boundlessenergy, both physical and mental. Her activities extended onboth sides of the doorstep. Not only was she active outdoors.She kept voluminous records, and had a wide correspondence.Since her yard was shady, Mrs. Williams started accumulat-ing plants that would thrive under her conditions. She foundthat there were many that she could grow well. She enjoyedthose with gray leaves and those with white or yellow variega-tions that added summer interest, as well as many other groundcovers - lamiums, artemisias, wild-gingers. Plantainlilies (hos-tas) flourished under the big trees, and she found pleasure inmaking groupings of ground covers around them that accen-tuated their characteristics. A variety of Hosta sieboldiana withyellow-edged leaves, for example, was surrounded by a form ofVinca minor with yellow-edged leaves. Under and around allthese were small spring bulbs. Texture, form, and scale and thechanges of the seasons all were subjects of her attention, aswell as growth behaviors.She found that there were herbs that she could grow in the149shade and, through her interest in herbs, she became active inthe Herb Society of America. She became corresponding secre-tary and continued serving in this office for many years, finally,in recognition of her devotion, being made Honorary Correspond-ing Secretary. She also served the Society as curator of itsherbarium. In 1952 she received the first Award of Merit givenby the Society, and in 1956 the New England Unit of the Soci-ety made her an honorary member.It was the genus Hosta, however, that began to occupy moreand more of her time and attention. It was in the early 1930’sthat she began collecting hostas, which proved to be well adaptedto the somewhat damp shade of her partial acre. She boughtsome from local nurseries, and friends in Salem, where she grewup, gave her plants from old gardens.Her interest in the plants grew, so that she looked up nur-series farther away to acquire more kinds. She began photo-graphing plants at different stages of growth, and her record-keeping grew in importance. Each plant, when she acquired it,received a number. Each photograph bore the record of thenumber of the plant, its source, and the date the picture wastaken. In her notebooks, plants were entered with names,numbers, sources, and other information connected with them.Through forty years she kept up all this information and addedto it. She noted growth and bloom habits. She investigated thedifferences of root structure. The peculiarities of sporting didnot escape her attention. In the fall of 1967 she wrote (at theage of 84): "I have been much interested this fall in the shootswith leaf buds at the ends of some hemerocallis roots. And inthe fact that some of my hosta roots have leaf shoots on them,either at the end of the root or as fat little 1/16-inch buds thatgrew as perky little plants ..."At another time she wrote: "In several cases Hosta undulata(different plants) have sent out shoots that have become whatis called Hosta erromena, big leaves, long stems two to threefeet, and leaf blades five by ten inches, plants five feet across."The validity of this observation was confirmed when H. erro-mena was reduced to a variety of H. undulata by Maekawa.As the years went by, seedlings began to appear in the gardenthat were attractive enough to be singled out for increase. Atfirst Mrs. Williams shared these with others designated only bythe numbers she had assigned to them. Later she named anumber of plants that were introduced by Mrs. Thomas Nesmithof Fairmount Gardens. Unfortunately, plants given away undernumber were often given Latin names or descriptive designa-150tions by the recipients. Mrs. Williams also shared other hostas,including the offspring of seed she received from the NikkoBotanic Garden in Japan in 1950.Her exhibits at the shows of the Massachusetts HorticulturalSociety won awards, including, in 1953, a bronze medal. Herphotographs appeared among those in the study, The GenusHosta in Swedish Gardens, by Nils Hylander (Uppsala, 1954).Her articles appeared in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Plantsand Gardens, and in other gardening magazines.She also did some hand crossing, and several of the plantsthat were grown from the seed of the pollinated plants werenamed and introduced.Hosta Cultivars of Mrs. Williams. In the following list, I usethe names used by Mrs. Williams. * They will be understood bythose who have a serious interest in hostas, and I do not wishto wander into the maze of Hosta taxonomy, described by Prof.Hylander as a nightmare. Where quotes are used, I am repeat-ing Mrs. Williams’ written words. I have included Mrs. Williams’numbers with the cultivar names.’Beatrice’, #1399A. Seedling of H. lancifolia albomarginata,planted 1958. "May 1962 - one leaf variegated with yellowstripes. 1965 - plant had five variegated leaves." ’Beatrice’tends to give variegated seedlings, which make it of great inter-est to those who like to play with hostas.’Betsy King’, #502. (Introduced 1960) Mrs. Williams thoughtthis to be a decorata-lancifolia hybrid. It starts growth earlyin the spring like lancifolia, and the flower shape is very likethat of decorata. It is light to moderate purple, the color solidoutside and solid inside except for six white stripes at thejoinings of the perianth segments. The leaf mound is to 14inches, the scapes reach 20 inches. It is an effective gardenplant, neat and well proportioned, the color darker than


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