Frances Ropes Williams

Hybridizing Hostas

Today is the birthday of the woman who is remembered for one of the most popular hostas in American gardens: Frances Ropes Williams.
Frances had a shady garden in Winchester, Massachusetts. And, what is the most-used plant by shade gardeners? Hostas. That's right.
And Frances had an appreciation for hostas before they became widely used in American gardens. A graduate of MIT, Williams was lucky enough to get the chance to work with Warren H. Manning, the famous Boston landscape architect, for a little over two years.
Frances stopped working to marry Stillman Williams. But sadly, he died after almost twenty years of marriage, leaving Frances with four young children - two boys and two girls.
Frances and her family loved the outdoors. When the kids were little, Frances made them one of the very first playsets.
When the children were grown, Frances found purpose in her garden, and she zeroed in on her hostas. She became known for hybridizing them, and she even wrote about them for various botanical magazines.
Frances discovered the hosta that would be named for her honor quite by happenstance. She had visited her daughter in college in New York, and she stopped by Bristol Nurseries in Connecticut on her way home. Nestled in a row of Hosta sieboldiana, was a hosta that had a yellow edge. Frances bought it and continued to grow it in her garden.
Years later, Frances hosta ended up in the hands of Professor George Robinson at Oxford. Frances had labeled the plant FRW 383. When the professor couldn't remember what Frances had labeled the plant, he simply called it hosta Frances Williams.
Frances's work with hosta helped the newly-formed American Hosta Society. After she died in 1969, a hosta garden was planted in her memory at MIT.

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Frances Ropes Williams
Frances Ropes Williams

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