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One mid-August afternoon in 2005 Claire and I found ourselves on a rural road in Amish country near Killbuck, Ohio. We had driven up there to say our last goodbyes to Steve Dodd—our dear friend Debbie Voisin’s dad—an extraordinary man about whom I plan to write more later.

We like tooling around the back roads when we travel—what Claire calls one-lane roads since each driver only gets one lane in each direction.
As we slowed down to negotiate an “S” curve we couldn’t help but see ahead of us standing out from the rest of the standard roadside weeds clutches of tall (8′ or more some of them) thick-stemmed plants growing in the drainage ditch and a short distance up the hillside.
What made them noticeable besides their height were the flower clusters that crowned them—a sort of spray of small greenish-gray flowers with just a hint of purple. We might not have given them anything but a momentary glance—they were rather coarse in leaf and their subtle flower colors could easily be overlooked. Except for one fact. They were swarmed with butterflies.

Butterfly on roadside plant

Butterfly on roadside plant

Now one or two butterflies especially the small white “discount” ones that seem to be everywhere would be no big deal. But a dozen or two—and high quality top shelf ones at that! Not something you see every day!

Butterfly on roadside plant (2)

So we stopped and had a closer look. It’s been years since I could identify anything other than your basic Monarch butterfly so what we saw that afternoon was an exciting novelty indeed. A half dozen or more butterflies (no Monarchs) were flitting around those odd-colored flowers. A magnificent sight!

We took pictures with hopes of identifying both the plants and their attendants. Later, Internet sources helped me recognize tiger swallowtails and meadow fritillaries (?) as the two most plentiful species.

The plants I had heard of many times but had never actually seen? Joe Pye Weed.
The following spring I picked up a couple Joe Pye Weed plants from the annual sale at Dawes Arboretum.

Buddleia & Joe Pye Weed in the Swoosh bed at Nine Pines Garden

Buddleia & Joe Pye Weed in the Swoosh bed at Nine Pines Garden

Flash forward to this last weekend. Official Nine Pines Garden photo-chronicler (A.E. Brunsman III) and I were touring the garden whereupon I spied a tiger swallowtail amidst the buddleias. Amazed and thrilled was I!
Gus got a couple shots of it. Here’s the best one.

Tiger swallowtail on buddleia plant (Nine Pines Garden)

Tiger swallowtail on buddleia plant (Nine Pines Garden)

I can’t wait for the buds to break on the Eupatorium purpureum subsp. maculatum ‘Gateway’ (Joe Pye Weed)


Claire saw the ad a few days ago in one of the local suburban newspapers. No name but a phone number and some tantalizing hints of plant bargains.  She read it to me, “…garden closing…”, “…hostas, daylilies…”. Actually I think what caught my ear was the mention of other plant material, “Specimen plants too.” I was thinking trees (my personal favorite).

Yesterday (Friday) she called to get directions and mid-afternoon we headed out to a large suburban property under tall shade near the intersection of Big Walnut and Worthington roads. We were met in the driveway by Tom Will. The garden, Tom explained, was the project of his dad, Herm, who, at 86, was wanting to scale back on his nursery work.

We walked the grounds for awhile and then sought out Herm, a slight man with a shovel in his hand, who guided us around the place. We finally settled on three plants: Hosta “Sagae’, Hosta ‘Ice Cream’, and Hosta plantaginea ‘August Lily’.

The big one.

Hosta ‘Sagae’ is the largest of the group–an upright, vase-shaped large leaved plant about 2 feet tall and will eventually spread to about 3 feet or so. I’m guessing it’ll get bigger than that. It has huge leaves–that’s why Claire liked it. Big-leaved plants remind her of the tropicals that grow in her beloved Florida. I plan to settle it in the Pin Oak Island bed where it will join a small assortment of other hostas.

Hosta 'Sagae'

Hosta 'Sagae': Impressive size, little else.

 The small one.

Hosta ‘Ice Cream’ had nothing in particular to recommend it to me other than the fact that it was small (expected to reach 6-10″ in height) and not unpleasant to look at. The flowers are nothing special. They are a very pale lavender–almost white–and they have no discernable fragrance. I haven’t determined where I want to locate this little guy–I may settle it in a pot for the time being.

Hosta 'Ice Cream'

Hosta 'Ice Cream': Cute but unspectacular.

The fragrant one.

Hosta plantaginea ‘August Lily’ is known, apparently, as the most fragrant of all the hostas. It is reputed to have huge, pure white 5 inch blooms that open in late summer to perfume warm summer nights. One online source I found averred that this cultivar is very old–150 years he said–but is getting hard to find in the trade. Herm’s comments may account for this, “…they’re nothing to look at…”. The drive in our culture toward the bigger, faster, multi-tasking, triple-spectaculars may have doomed any commercial potential this modest plant may have had with its single, subtle, but endearing, quality: that it smells good in the evening (like gardenias, I think one site said) . The plant itself is medium-sized with plain medium green color leaves. (Herm was right.) Headed for a pot, I think. That way I can move it around as needed.

Hosta plantaginea 'August Lily'
Hosta plantaginea ‘August Lily’: Flower smells good but otherwise dull, dull, dull.

I can’t believe I forgot to ask about trees.