Fire up the laptop: E-mail brings news of new plants

Posted Nov. 19, 2010, at 6:27 p.m.

“All change is not progress,” my father often told me. I hear the echo of his words when I learn that another bookstore has folded, unable to compete with the Internet. I can’t imagine curling up with a good MacBook in the last or first hour of the day. It doesn’t smell the same.

Seed catalogs may be obsolete soon as well, replaced by websites loaded with full-color photos and flowery prose. I like ordering online, but I make my decisions by turning pages as I sit in the rocker by the fire, looking up to watch snow fall on the garden. I fill out the order form with a pencil before booting up the computer.

There is no stopping the Internet juggernaut, and soon no gardener will know the anticipation of waiting for seed catalogs to come in the new year’s mail. You’ll know what’s new for the coming garden year long before Christmas, informed by e-mail, and you will not miss what you’ve never experienced.

Arriving in my inbox last week was a very early announcement of these All-America Selections Award Winners for 2011.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ (Bedding plant wainner)

Being a hummingbird enthusiast, this bright red salvia caught my eye. It was consistently rated “superior” or “above average” by AAS judges because of its early and generous flower blossoms, continuing from spring to autumn. Additionally, each dwarf and densely branching plant remains a tidy 20 inches tall, even at full ma-turity. As an added bonus, goldfinches flock to the plants for seeds. Even the leaves add beauty with their finer-textured, dark-green color. This annual is ideal for full sun containers, mixed beds and borders where uniformity is desired.

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ (Cool season winner)

This winner is an early-flowering, mounding viola in a vibrant new color. In trials, the 6-inch-tall plants kept a low-growing mounding habit. Colorful and prolific 1¼-inch blooms have light blue petals with a velvety dark blue face that is surrounded by a narrow white border. Flower color was a consistent deep Marina blue throughout the season. This vigorous frost-tolerant biennial provides a solid mat of fall color until covered with snow, followed by a great recovery in spring. Grow in full sun as a low edging in the garden or in hanging baskets and pots.

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ (Flower winner)

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ offers a new and unique apricot color for this class. Blooms have yellow edges that deepen to a rich apricot in the center. Judges noted the award-winning distinctive flower color of the 3 to 3 ½-inch daisylike flowers, described as exceptionally lovely and lighter in color than traditional gaillardia. Just 105 days after sowing seed, this gaillardia will bloom from early summer into autumn. The compact, 12-inch-tall plants offer bright green foliage and a tidy uniform habit best viewed when planted to the front of the flower bed. This long-flowering perennial is hardy in USDA Zones 2-10, is relatively maintenance-free, and drought-tolerant once established. Gardeners will want to remove old flowers to encourage additional blooming.

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ (Cool season winner)

This is All-America Selections’ first winning kale (edible or ornamental) in 78 years of trialing — no surprise to me as I have never thought of this group of annuals as “ornamental,” though I know that many gardeners use them as such. I must admit, however, that ‘Glamour Red’ appears to be an excellent achievement in breeding for its unique shiny leaves. The waxless quality of the leaves makes them shiny with a more intense, vivid color as compared with existing ornamental brassicas.

Judges noted that the shiny foliage is striking in the landscape and it outperformed comparisons with outstanding success. It is a fringed-leaf type ornamental kale with flower head size of 10 to 12 inches. This full-sun annual will bloom 90 days from sowing seed to first color. Leaf coloring begins when night temperatures fall below 55 degrees for approximately two weeks.

You can find color photos of these winners at the AAS website, www.all-americaselections.org/Winners.asp, and also in seed catalogs that arrive in your mail early next year.

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