The Hybridizing Work of Kevin Vaughn
Bill Meyer
    In the late 1960's a young teenager from Athol, MA, named Kevin Vaughn was fascinated by the process of hybridizing, of making new plants that no one had seen before. Hostas were particularly interesting to him, and he began making crosses with the few hostas he was able to obtain. These were just a few common old green species types, and the plants he created with them were in his own words unremarkable. That was soon to change.

Kevin Vaughn with Eunice Fisher Award

   He soon learned that not far away there was a woman who was also hybridizing hostas and managed an invite to her garden. There he saw a vast hybridizing program with an amazing collection of blue and gold seedlings and, to his great surprise, many variegated ones as well. He was hooked, and creating hostas became his main interest for the next ten years or more. The woman, Florence Shaw of nearby Weston, MA, mentored young Kevin and shared some of her best breeding plants with him, and his own work took off in earnest.
   Among the earliest plants that he created were the group of siblings he named 'Christmas Tree', 'Breeder's Choice', 'William Lachman', and 'Mildred Seaver'. From them he created a number of other variegated hostas that would later become well-known in hosta circles. Those did not have names yet, but were growing and being evaluated in his mother's yard in Athol while Kevin was away doing post-grad work at Miami University in Ohio, where in time he became the first and only person to receive a PhD for his work with hostas. 
   Kevin also took an interest in hosta species that were becoming available at the time, especially pycnophylla which he used extensively in his breeding. One experiment he conducted was an effort to get as many different species into a plant as possible. The only named plant from that was the four-species cross called 'Gold Piece', which is believed to be lost.
   There at the university, Kevin pursued his work with hostas and was doing extensive hybridizing in three greenhouses he was allowed the use of. He moved into working with plantagenia there, making hundreds of crosses and working on his doctoral thesis about hostas. As he selected out the best seedlings from the greenhouses, he would take them back to his mother's home to plant them in the ground and continue evaluating them. Soon her backyard was housing the most amazing collection of hostas anywhere in the world. Sadly by this time his friend and mentor Florence Shaw had passed away from a terminal illness, but her spirit lived on in the work Kevin was doing. Many of the plants growing in that backyard garden would become the next round of great hosta introductions. 
   Before Kevin finished his work at Miami Ohio, a visitor showed up at his mother's house one day. This man explained to Kevin's mother that he was there to collect plants with Kevin's permission, which he did not really have. He was going to make Kevin rich, he said, by getting them into the nursery trade, and the royalties for Kevin would be huge. He spent the day digging, breaking for a lunch served by Mrs. Vaughn, who was excited for her son and the fame and fortune soon to come his way. She had no idea that the visitor had a different plan in mind as he drove off with 27 mature plants and another 20-some younger plants. 

Vaughn at Miami U in the 1970's 

   That visitor was Paul Aden, who went on to introduce Kevin's plants as his own over the next ten years or so. Among the plants that Aden had in the trunk of his car that day were the ones that would come to be known as 'Fragrant Bouquet', 'So Sweet', 'Fragrant Blue', 'Pizzazz', 'Wide Brim', 'Brim Cup', 'Sweetie', 'Invincible', and others. He might have gotten away with it, but he slipped up with one of them. Unknowing that Kevin had given Mildred a piece of 'Christmas Tree' already, Aden took that plant too and introduced it as his own, naming it 'Grandmaster'. That slip was to become one of the clearest indicators that Aden's introductions and registrations were not his own work. 
   Aden strung the young hybridizer along for years with promises of royalties to come while secretly putting out the plants as his own. In time, as word slowly got around that the plants were Kevin's, the pressure and questions led to Aden fading out of the hosta scene. 
   After receiving his PhD, Kevin took a job with the USDA in Mississippi, where the climate was unfavorable to hybridizing hostas. He was able to continue working with them using a growth chamber there and shipping them to his mother's house or directly to Handy Hatfield. Hatfield dealt him another blow when he introduced many Vaughn plants then failed to live up to his agreement to pay royalties to him. He also took up working with irises, which Florence Shaw had worked with as well, and with a variety of other lesser-known perennials. 
The importance of Kevin's work in the development of the Genus Hosta can't be understated. In particular, his breakthroughs at the University of Miami with fragrant plants were the most significant of the era. The species plantagenia is difficult to work with for several reasons. It blooms much later in the day, is difficult to make successful crosses onto, and its pollen does not mix very well with other species. At the time he started working with it the only fragrant hostas were a few all-green plantagenia crosses like 'Royal Standard' and 'Honeybells'. Kevin moved that wonderful fragrance in variegated plants and even the first blue with fragrance. These were very difficult achievements that have been rarely matched in the 30-some years that followed. 

'Fragrant Bouquet' (Vaughn 82)

   Among the Vaughn plants that still are important in the marketplace are 'Fragrant Bouquet', 'Fragrant Blue', 'So Sweet', and 'Wide Brim'. A number of others are still popular with collectors, and occasionally one of those gets a revival in the marketplace when one of the TC labs produces more of them. 'Fragrant Bouquet' has produced a large group of sports, of which 'Guacamole' has gotten around the most, but 'Stained Glass' and 'Cathedral Windows' have been sold in large numbers too.
   Without a doubt, Kevin Vaughn belongs on anyone's list of the five most important hosta hybridizers. One can only wonder at what could have been had Aden not taken away the cream of his hybridizing program. Despite Aden's many promises that Kevin would receive not only credit for his plants but royalties as well, never a penny went to him and until recently no credit for his work did either. 
   A few years ago, Kevin retired from his work with the USDA and moved from Mississippi to the more plant-favorable climate of Oregon, where he continues his life-long love of working with plants. He currently works with numerous genera, and has returned to working with hostas a little as well.