All American Selections boast new and improved plants
The annual announcement of the latest All-America Selections means spring can’t be too far away.
Any variety holding the coveted AAS-winning title has been through rigorous trials by volunteer judges from all over the country. Founded in 1932, with the first winners announced the next year, it’s the oldest independent seed- and plant-testing organization. For many gardeners, AAS certification takes the worry out of planting a new variety.
A few favorites
Diane Blazek, the executive director of AAS and the National Gardening Bureau, goes through some of her favorite winners for this season:
“As always there’s a lot of tomatoes,” she says, “but then we also have this new line of marigolds called ‘Big Duck.’ There are three colors, gold, yellow and orange.
“What the judges liked is how long they bloomed in the garden,” she adds. The flowers are long standing and disease resistant, with stems reaching from 11-15 inches tall, covered in large, 3-inch “poofy” flowers, she says with a laugh. The old-fashioned flower has renewed interest among gardeners.
“They evoke memories, she says. “They’re easy to grow, so they are just really good for the garden.”
There’s also a great new marigold for cut flowers, Blazek says, which is also a growing trend. ‘Garuda Deep Gold’ gets almost 3- or 4-feet tall with large, bright orange flowers. A judge said “This is perfect, everything you want in a cut and come-again flower throughout the season.”
Last year’s ‘South Pacific Orange’ canna was the first variety introduced that could be started from a seed. Now ‘Clancy’ is the first potato that can be grown from seed. The tiny seeds are pelletized, meaning covered with a clay-like coating to make them easier to handle. Judges were blown away by the results. The plant produces pinkish-red potatoes along with pretty purple flowers. It’s a prolific variety with plants growing about 2 feet tall and wide. They need to be started early indoors to give them time to mature.
Breeders are also trying to get improved yield and disease resistance in tomatoes by creating hybrids using heirlooms. ‘Sparky’ and ‘Red Torch’ were both bred with that in mind.
‘Sparky’ is early, flavorful and prolific. The sweet cherry tomatoes weigh about an ounce and are an inch around, reaching maturity in 60 to 70 days. They have beautiful red and yellow striped fruit.
‘Red Torch’ has the same color characteristics as ‘Sparky’ on a small, oblong fruit, one and a half inches long. It’s as early as ‘Sparky,’ filled with tomatoes, has great texture and flavor. Because it’s a hybrid, the variety has a very high yield.
Blazek loves the ‘Firefly’ tomato too. It’s a yellow grape tomato that grows on trusses. “They are cute and delicious,” she says, adding, “people could serve the trusses on a cheese tray instead of grapes.”
‘Orange SilverWave’ is a new type of melon with unique coloring and flavor. “The inside is the color of a light cantaloupe but the taste is more like a honeydew,” Blazek says.
‘Nasturtium Baby Rose’ had overwhelming response from judges for its color and mounding habit. Like all nasturtiums, the flowers are edible, too.
Petunia Wave ‘Carmine Velour’ won due to its intense red color along with the habit and flowering culture that gardeners expect from any wave petunia.
Vinca ‘Megabloom Polkadot’ has giant blooms of white with a pink center.
Tracking the scores
Blazek enjoys the process of learning what wins and what doesn’t.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” she says. “It’s kind of like riding a roller coaster. We track the score sheets as they come in. It’s an honor to be able to go back to the breeder and give them the congratulations. It’s exciting.”
Like all gardeners though, she can’t plant all the new introductions.
“I want to grow everything in my yard, but I don’t have the room,” she says laughing. “I could take over my neighbor’s yard and still not have enough room.”
For more information and to find out where to buy AAS winners, go to all-americaselections.org.
Gardeners can see the winners in two AAS display gardens in the area. One is in Schenley Plaza in Oakland and the other is at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. They are the first public gardens to be able to display the winners.