OWEN PURVIS STANDS in his garden, which features about 1,000 varieties of hostas, with a shovel in hand. Laura Lyke photo
by Laura Lyke
Green Lake Reporter
There are more than 7,000 named varieties of hostas in the world.
Owen Purvis has about 1,000 varieties of them in his Princeton yard.
The gardener has put his green thumb to work almost since he was able to kneel, but wouldn’t call himself an expert on the subject.
“I’ve enjoyed gardening my whole life with limited success,” he said. “I haven’t done much studying but I’ve enjoyed fiddling around with vegetable gardening and other plants. About 13 years ago the hostas caught my attention and I fell in love.”
Although now retired, Purvis sees the strong connection between his career as a carpenter and love for gardening.
“Of course I enjoy growing plants, but my favorite part is the designing the garden,” he said. “It’s a lot like my house work, only now I get to be out in the beautiful, fresh air.”
Hostas are a perennial plant, meaning they continue to reappear every year without needing to be replanted.
Like many other gardeners, Purvis appreciates the perennials for their low-maintenance lifestyle and great diversity.
“Hostas are pretty forgiving,” he said. “There is such a variety of size, color and leaf shape, which I love. I stay interested all year long.”
The gardener is part of the Wisconsin Hosta Society, a club of hosta enthusiasts, who taught him a unique saying about hostas.
“The first year they sleep [don’t grow above ground], the second year they creep [grow slowly and remain small] and the third year they leap [grow quickly in size],” Purvis said. “It’s fun to watch the plants transition year after year.”
Purvis sells his hostas out of his home and at the Princeton flea market every week.
“At the end of June this year, we had an open garden, where gardeners can visit the lot and walk though the gardens,” he said. “A few hundred people came out to see my garden. I was selling plants, but mostly it was an opportunity for people who admire hostas and gardening to see my work and gather with each other.”
Purvis and his wife Susan are originally from Milwaukee, where the gardener estimates he grew around 800 varieties of hostas on his small city lot.
“After retirement we were drawn to Princeton,” Purvis said. “My wife is from Door County, which is beautiful but too busy for the two of us. We love the Green Lake area, and when we found this perfect lot, we knew it was the one.”
Purvis remembers the “perfect” Princeton lot was overgrown like a jungle, but it provided the right amount of shade for his favorite hobby.
“We spent the last 12 years clearing the lot and changing it,” Purvis said. “We lived at a house down the street planning on eventually building a home on the lot, but we ended up deciding not to build, so lucky for me that opens up more area for my gardening.”
After last August’s decision not to build a home on their Princeton lot, Purvis has been busy at work planting trees to create more shade for new and expanded hosta gardens.
“This is my happy place,” the gardener said. “It is so nice to get away from the phones and everything else. I love being outside in the summer. I get to be away with my own thoughts, be a little creative and get some physical exercise.”
Although hostas are his primary plant, Purvis also enjoys planting daylilies, oriental lilies and other companion plants for hostas.
“Princeton has been the perfect fit for us and especially my gardening hobby,” he said. “Of course being retired isn’t too bad, either, but just being here, having good neighbors and being able to get out and enjoy this beautiful summer, what can be better than that?”
Purvis estimates that he gardens three to four days each week, six to eight hours per day.
“Gardening is an important and wonderful part of my life. I spend a lot of time on it, but it’s not as much a business as it is a passion,” Purvis said, “and there’s no place I’d rather do it than Princeton.”