Earth Talk: 2022 All America Selection Winners | Guest columns
As I quietly sift through a stack of seed catalogs, sipping tea and relishing the warmth of the fireplace, I mostly jot down, in my well-worn notebook, tried-and-true vegetable and flower varieties that need to be ordered. . The lure of new and improved plants, rediscovered heirlooms, and exciting cultivars or species that I haven’t tried is just too great, and inevitably my list goes on and on. Among the handful of new plants that are reduced in a more realistic order, there is at least one All America Selections (AAS) winner. What is an AAS winner and how is it chosen?
The AAS is an organization that evaluates new garden varieties and was founded in 1932 by W. Ray Hastings, who was the president of the Southern Seedsmen’s Association of Atlanta, Ga. He was looking for a way for home gardeners and Find mainstream gardening magazines on new and improved plants. To do this, he encouraged seed companies to establish testing grounds where new varieties could be grown and evaluated. There are currently approximately 80 test gardens in North America. Professional horticulturists donate their time to assess plant performance.
In 1933, the first AAS winners were announced, and AAS winners were presented to the public each year thereafter. Two types of awards are given. About once a decade, a plant receives a gold medal, signifying a breakthrough in breeding. Last year, a gold medal was awarded to an exceptional zinnia. This year, two flowers received gold medals, quite unusual and attesting to their exceptional characteristics. More common is the AAS award, which rewards a flower or vegetable with superior characteristics compared to similar varieties available on the market. National and regional prizes may be awarded. Only new, previously unsold varieties are used in seed testing.
Begonia lovers will swoon over the gold medal winner, ‘Viking Explorer Rose on Green’. A crescendo of 2½ inch pink, pink flowers are framed by glossy green foliage. The plants have a unique habit of spreading and trailing reaching about 16 inches tall and wide, perfect for filling a hanging basket or container. This Viking cultivar is a hardy plant that is resistant to heat, rain, disease, insects and pollution.
“Bee’s Knees is the first petunia to win a gold medal since 1950. Bright yellow 2 to 2½ inch blooms keep coming from summer to frost. Reaching 8 to 10 inches in height and with a mounding and cascading habit, ‘Bee’s Knees’ would be wonderful in planters or as an attractive border plant or ground cover. Dead heading is not necessary. This hardy petunia held up well to rain, heat and cold.
Tournesol “Concert Bell” was selected for a national award. Unlike many sunflowers, “Concert Bell” produces multiple clusters of 10-12 flowers on an erect, columnar stem. Plants reach up to 6 feet in height. The golden flowers 5 to 6 inches in diameter are pollen-free, making them good cut flowers. Several direct sowings are suggested for continuous flowering from summer to fall.
Five vegetables were selected as national AAS winners. Eggplant “Icicle” is as beautiful as it is tasty. Cylindrical pure white fruits are ready to pick at about 7 inches in length. The plants are very productive with fewer thorns than most eggplants. They stand around 4 feet tall and can be grown in the garden as well as in containers.
“Bauer” is a beautiful dark green oak leaf lettuce. Its thick and crunchy leaves are particularly tasty. The compact plants can be harvested as young lettuce leaves or left to mature into a tight, rounded head 58 days from seed. Plants can be spaced closely at 8 inches for a bountiful harvest in a small space.
Those who are drawn to unique yet tasty tomatoes might like to try ‘Purple Zebra’. They are said to have a rich and complex flavor, the dark red fruits bear dark green stripes. Up to 200 3-4 oz fruits are produced on large plants that require staking. “Purple Zebra” has shown strong resistance or tolerance to many common tomato diseases.
A sweet pepper and a chili also became the 2022 AAS national winners. “Dragonfly” produces beautiful, thick-walled, juicy purple peppers. The four-lobed fruits measure almost 4 inches and the plants are super productive, producing up to 40 peppers per plant. The erect plants reach about 3 feet in height. Peppers can be picked while still green or even left to ripen to a deep red.
One pepper, “Buffy”, produces 250 or more good-sized green to red fruits on 28-inch plants. The fruits are about 1½ inches long and slightly triangular. They make tasty sports peppers, but keep in mind they are hot – 500,000 Scoville units. This will make chili sauce to keep you warm next winter!
When deciding what to grow in your garden next year, be sure to check out current or past AAS winners. They will also be the stars of your garden.
For gardening questions, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (toll-free) at (877) 486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu, or contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.