By Dr. Leonard Perry Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist University of Vermont
With patriotism reaching a new high in recent months, planting All-America Selections (AAS) flowers in the garden seems very appropriate. And you have plenty of choices this year as eight new varieties have earned the AAS designation for 2002, along with five vegetables for a total of 13 winners.
How does a flower become an AAS winner? Each year promising new varieties, as determined by plant breeders and seed producers, are trialled at more than 60 sites across the country. Those that outperform similar existing varieties earn the title, “All-America Selections” winner.
One of the requirements to be a winner is that the flower must bloom well the first year. In the past this limited the winners to annuals, which only bloom for one year. But with recent breeding advances, new perennial varieties are being developed that not only bloom well the first year from seeding (unlike most perennials), but will overwinter to bloom year after year.
The 2002 AAS winners include two petunias, ‘Lavender Wave’ and ‘Tidal Wave Silver.’ The first is a flowering ground cover, which grows to only six inches high but may spread four feet, forming a dense mat of two-inch lavender flowers. It does not require pinching or pruning like most petunias and will tolerate heat and severe weather. This variety prefers full sun and nutrient-rich soil and can be grown in hanging baskets and window boxes or as a ground plant.
‘Tidal Wave Silver’ differs from other petunias in flower color and growth habit. The blooms are exceptionally attractive, changing from a silvery white to a light lavender with a dark purple throat and slight veins. The plant grows into a massive wave (thus, the name) of flowers about 16 to 36 inches tall, depending on garden spacing. Taller plants may require trellising. Like ‘Lavender Wave,’ no pruning or pinching back is needed.
Geranium ‘Black Magic Rose’ made the list for its unusual foliage and exceptional vigor. It is the first hybrid geranium with dark chocolate colored leaf centers with green edges. The bright rose florets have a white eye and are about one and one-half inches in diameter. For best results, plant this prolific bloomer in full sun.
Cleome ‘Sparkler Blush,’ the first dwarf cleome, is the perfect choice for small garden spaces. This old-fashioned annual can be grown from seed or plants and grows to a height of three feet although requires no staking. The florets are one and one-half inches in diameter and pink in color maturing to white. The foliage is an attractive dark green.
The first pansy with blue and yellow bicolor blooms and black “whiskers,” Pansy ‘Ultima Morpho,’ also was selected as a 2002 AAS winner. In addition to its unique pastel blooms, which range in color from all blue to mainly yellow and everything in between, this plant is a joy to grow because it is heat-tolerant, a prolific bloomer, and can be started from seed. It grows five to nine inches high and gets its unusual name from the Morpho butterfly, which has the same coloration.
Vinca ‘Jaio Scarlet Eye’ has vibrant, scarlet red, two-inch flowers with rose tones, a new color for the vinca family. Bloom is continuous from May until a killing frost, making it an ideal plant for an annuals garden or to add color to a perennial bed. This vinca, which attains a height of about a foot at full maturity, is heat and drought tolerant. It requires no pinching back. It can be grown from seed although grows slowly and needs temperatures of 75 degrees or higher to get established.
A cone flower also earned a spot among the AAS winners this year. Rudbeckia Hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset’ produces gorgeous double and semi-double flowers in autumn colors like bronze, yellow, orange, and mahogany. Flowers are about four inches in size and grow on plants 24 to 30 inches tall. Some staking may be needed as the plants are upright and branching. This perennial makes an excellent cut flower although may not overwinter well in cold climates like Vermont.
The final winner for 2002 is Ornamental Pepper ‘Chilly Chili.’ Although the two-inch tapered peppers are edible, most gardeners grow this ornamental plant for autumn centerpieces, wreaths, and other crafts. The tiny red, yellow, and orange peppers also add color to the annual garden or container plantings. The eight to 12 inch plants prefer full sun and will tolerate extreme heat and humidity.
All these flowers are available through mail order catalogs and at garden centers, either as potted plants or seeds. Look for the red, white, and blue shield logo, the sign of an AAS winner.