Olga Petryszyn is a successful real estate broker with the Olga Petryszyn Team based out of Valparaiso; however she is recognized worldwide for her talent of fusing genetics, art, and gardening in what she refers to as her avocation: hybridizing hosta plants.
"I am known as a hybridizer," Petryszyn said. "I have always loved gardening. My mother Anna was a gardener."
Petryszyn learned how to hybridize in 1986 from her professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Bill Brincka, a true master gardener.
"Bill Brincka invited me to visit the garden/arboretum in Michigan City that he and his partner, Basil Cross cultivated on the acreage near their home. Wow! We became best friends over the years and my passion for gardening and arts took off," Petryszyn said.
At the time there were only about 20 cultivars, or hostas that were cultivated to display certain characteristics, in existence. Her passion was ignited and Petryszyn has been doing scientific hybridizing ever since. She has worked with other plants, including day lilies, but keeps coming back to the hosta.
"It is the sculptural form of the hosta that turns me on. The plant is stately in the landscape and lasts throughout the growing season, and comes back each year with little care. The flower scapes can be cut off when finished blooming (the bees need their place in the scheme of things) and the plant kept neat. I like that they are not too fussy," she said.
Petryszyn credits her artistic background in helping her to intuitively know which characteristics to cull and which to develop to create an attractive plant. She has learned to isolate and choose features such as form, color, texture, ruffles, size and more, based on her study and experience.
"Once you understand the results of your work, you know which genetics are strong and can come through from one cultivar to another. Using your imagination, you put together the genes in order to create what you are looking for," Petryszyn explained.
Her work with hybridizing is home based, unless she is traveling to collect pollen. She enjoys being in her garden early in the morning before going into the office, and again just before dark.
"It really clears my mind and the earth solidifies my well-being. One should take time to be with nature," she said.
Petryszyn's clientele include local gardeners, arboretums, plants societies, and major nursery producers such as Proven Winners, who patented one of her hostas: the H. 'Coast to Coast'.
"The other day I received a call from a plant tag printer in need of a photo of my H. 'Coal Miner' as they were doing a large order for Lowes. Many times my plants go to Europe or China where they are cloned and then sold back to the U.S. As a hybridizer we do not really make money like some think but at least I know I am contributing to the global economy," she said.
Her creatively named hostas are part of a series she titled "Americana" in honor of her mother and father who were immigrants from the Ukraine. In World War II they were captured and used as slave labor in Germany.
"Their survival and getting to the U.S. is a miracle. They loved America and worked to be citizens as soon as they could. They both died young due to the stress they endured and I wanted to honor them by creating a legacy of plants that will live on forever. I wish they could see them," Petryszyn said.
Her hostas have names like Niagara Falls, Memphis Blue, Grand Canyon, Key West and Tobacco Road. Her newest registered hosta is called H. 'Coast to Coast' and crosses her H. 'Golden Gate' with H. 'Manhattan'.
"The one that is not tied to a state was designed for my brother's 50th birthday. He is my all American Hero. It is called H. 'Brother Stefen'," she said.
Petryszyn's passion and creativity flow into other avenues of expression.
"Since I can remember I wanted to be an artist. My love is in sculpture, but that takes space and equipment that I do not have. Currently I have been painting with oils and just love it. Mostly landscapes and nature-go figure! If you think about it, creating a garden is like sculpture but on a grand scale. You have all this space to fill and it has to balance, look right, feel right, flow right and have colors that work together. It really takes time and patience, just like a painting," she said.
Petryszyn describes the process of hybridizing as both science and art, "With some divine intervention thrown in."
As a Master Judge with the American Hosta Society, Petryszyn travels all over the United States for various conventions and has taught numerous classes on hybridizing hostas. For more information about the American Hosta Society, email AHSMembershipSecretary@charter.net, and for the local Northwest Indiana Hosta Society, email email@example.com.