Garden Clippings: All-America Selections 2007

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Besides being a time to start fresh and resolve to do or not do certain things, to gardeners, this time of year means the mailbox will be brimming with new nursery catalogs. It also means that the winning plants from All-America Selections (AAS) have been released. And this year, AAS – an organization based in Downers Grove, Ill. – has selected four winning plants for 2007.

AAS is also celebrating its 75-year anniversary by honoring five past winners that have proven to be truly remarkable improvements for gardeners.

This years’ winners include two bedding plants – ‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ vinca and ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ petunia; one flower – ‘Fresh Look Gold’ celosia; and one vegetable – ‘Holy Molé’ pepper.

‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ is a vinca that sports large, 2-inch blooms with large white centers and a burgundy halo surrounding the eye of white. This plant will grow 10 to 12 inches tall with a similar spread, which makes it a great, eye-catching choice for a container in a sunny location. Vinca is my choice of plant for those hot locations, because they seem to thrive in such locations with minimal care.

‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ petunia is my kind of flower. Pruning and deadheading are not a requirement of this plant for it to continue its handsome ways throughout the season. Glistening pink blooms cover this trailing plant all through the season. This type of petunia will only grow to 4 to 6 inches tall, but can have a spread up to 3 feet given a proper, sunny location. I can close my eyes and see ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ as a welcome addition to a mass planting in the front of the border. I can also picture it as a container plant, because of the plant’s unique bloom color.

‘Fresh Look Gold’ celosia was selected as this year’s flower winner. This plumed celosia was chosen for its 4-inch-long and 3-inch-wide, golden flower spikes that don’t turn brown and fade as the season progresses. This “fresh look” keeps a gardener from that dreadful chore of deadheading. ‘Fresh Look Gold’ will grow to about a foot tall with a similar spread.

‘Holy Molé’ should be a name we can all remember when it comes time to purchase pepper plants this spring. This winner of the AAS vegetable selection is a hybrid that exhibits increased pepper production and a resistance to several viruses that can often stunt garden peppers. The fruit grows to a length of 7 to 9 inches and a width of 1 1/2 inches. These peppers will mature to a dark chocolate color if not used while they are still green. “Nutty and tangy” are the words used to describe the flavor of this pepper.

The five plants from the past that AAS has chosen to help celebrate its 75th anniversary include two petunias – ‘Wave Purple’ and ‘Ultra Crimson Star’; a dianthus – Ideal Violet; a cool-season flower – ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ pansy; and a tomato – ‘Big Beef.’

‘Wave Purple’ petunia was the 1995 AAS winner, and was the one that has made colorful plantings simple. It was the first of the “wave” petunias that have the trailing habit and do not require pruning and deadheading. A number of petunias have been selected from this line of breeding, but this magenta one makes it into at least one of my plantings each year. It’s just too perfect to leave out when you think about it.

‘Ultra Crimson Star’ is the other petunia selected for this honor. This eye-catching petunia still fills the shelves of the local garden stores. With white stars radiating out from the center of the bloom to the edge and surrounded by crimson, it’s still a winner. ‘Ultra Crimson Star’ was a 1988 bedding plant award winner.

‘Ideal Violet’ dianthus was originally introduced in 1992. The claim to fame for the plant, then and now, was its ability to tolerate heat and cold. These plants will reach 12 inches in height and width, and will do well in both southern and northern gardens.

‘Majestic Giants Mix’ pansy is the cool-season flower that is an “oldie but a goody.” Introduced in 1966, this pansy was a mix of colors, but it was the first pansy that didn’t need cool temperatures for flower initiation. This trait meant that no cold treatment was required for flowering by southern gardeners. This small hybrid plant with the large blooms is still a selection at garden centers for spring and fall gardens.

‘Big Beef’ is the tomato selected to join the other AAS selections this year. This tomato was a winner in 1994, when we wanted everything from a tomato – large fruit, early maturity and disease resistance. ‘Big Beef’ brought it to the table, and this tomato is still the choice of gardeners who want to grow a beefsteak-type tomato.

Here’s to looking forward to trying these new winners this year, and to not forgetting the good, old tried-and-true ones. Happy New Year, gardeners!