“Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower”
— Hans Christian Anderson
This year marks the 76th anniversary of the All America Selections program. AAS is an organization devoted to promoting new annual flower and vegetable varieties with superior garden performance as judged in impartial side-by-side comparison trials at 48 trial gardens throughout North America.
There also are 178 AAS Display Gardens, including one at Rogers Farm (University of Maine) in Stillwater, where gardeners can view AAS winners in a garden setting.
I know the rigor of this testing program. As horticultural manager for George W. Park Seed Co. in Greenwood, S.C., between 1977 and 1986, I managed the annual flower and vegetable trial program, including the AAS section. We grew hundreds of flower and vegetable varieties, evaluating their performance through the long South Carolina summer. The job included germinating the seeds in a climate-controlled germination room, raising transplants in the greenhouses, planting the transplants in more than 4 acres of raised beds, and evaluating the performance of each variety.
Regulations for the AAS trials were rigid. Each variety was planted in a block of 48 plants, typically on 12-inch spacing, new entries growing side-by-side with the best of the old varieties. A similar system, rigorous and impartial, is used today.
This year, four annual flower varieties won prestigious AAS awards. These include a “snapless” snapdragon, a hybrid Gaillardia, or blanket flower, with a compact habit, a new viola perfect for pots, and a bicolor zinnia with superior disease resistance.
‘Twinny Peach’ is a double form of snapdragon with butterfly flowers in peach-tone colors, distinctive shades of peach, yellow and light orange that are found in no other snapdragon. Only 12 inches high, ‘Twinny Peach’ is perfect for massing in front of the sunny border, perhaps combined with blue salvias or plants with purple foliage, and for growing in pots.
‘Mesa Yellow’ is the first hybrid blanket flower with a controlled plant habit and prolific flowering. Ideal for the cutting garden, the 3-inch daisylike flowers and globe-shaped seed heads offer summer-long color and texture. Left on the plant, the flowers are a favorite of butterflies and bumblebees.
AAS judges took note of the neat, mounded habit of ‘Mesa Yellow’ plants, a form that makes this blanket flower ideal for smaller spaces in the garden or for containers. Plants reach 20 to 22 inches in full sun and recover quickly from severe winds and rain.
‘Endurio Sky Blue Martien’ is a new clear-blue viola, only 6 inches high with a spreading and mounding habit, perfect for cool-season containers. Plants placed in the garden in autumn will flower well after first frost and again in spring after the snow melts. Or it can be planted in early spring, filling window boxes or hanging planters, as well as landscapes, with sky-blue blooms well into summer.
My favorite among these AAS winners is a new zinnia, ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’, the first rose-and-white bicolor zinnia. It has proven resistance to leaf spot and mildew, two diseases that often plague zinnias, particularly in wet summers. In the AAS trials, this disease resistance resulted in long-lasting zinnia plants that provided generous color all season.
‘Zahara Starlight Rose’ is undemanding with a maximum number of blooms and is both heat- and drought-tolerant, the perfect annual for beginning gardeners. Plants grow from 12 to 14 inches in height, a good fit for garden pots or patio urns, as well as massing in the border.
Only four annual flower varieties were honored with an AAS award this year, and no vegetable variety awards. To me, this reinforces the prestige of an AAS winner. Only the best varieties, trialed and proved across the country, are introduced to gardeners as AAS winners.
Gardeners should be able to find these AAS winners at local garden centers next spring.
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