This week, I received five gardening catalogs in the mail. I expect a few more will be coming soon. I also look online for new varieties of plants. One way that I know a plant could work well in my garden is that I look for the red, white, and blue logo of All-America Selections (AAS) on seed packets, on bedding plant tags, or in catalogs. Even AAS winners from several years ago are more likely to prove successful than non-winners.
The AAS testing program is an independent, nonprofit organization that tests new plants. They have about 80 test gardens from Alaska and Canada to California and Florida. They also have almost 200 display gardens all across the continent that aren’t used for judging, but rather for showing gardeners how well the plants grow locally.
The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just an end-of-season harvest. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of a national AAS Award. Some plants will do better in a hot, dry climate or a cool, humid region and wouldn’t win a national award, so the country is divided into six regions, where a plant might win one or more regional awards.
The flowering plants are evaluated for desirable qualities such as novel flower forms, flower colors, flowers held above the leaves, fragrance, length of flowering season, and disease or pest tolerances or resistance. This week, we discuss the flowers, and next week, the vegetables.
The angel wing begonias are beautiful in hanging baskets. The new begonia Viking Explorer Rose is different because it is a trailing begonia that will hang over the edges of hanging baskets and containers. The rose-colored flowers start early and continue until frost in the fall. The plant grows in full to partial sun, and it is tolerant of heat and wet or dry soil.
The first petunia to win a gold medal at the AAS trials since 1950, Bee’s Knees has a bright, non-fading yellow flower. If your garden needs yellow, petunias are sturdy plants that are easy to care for. Full sun and a well-draining potting or garden soil are all they ask for. A little deadheading and fertilizer will keep this petunia blooming all summer.
Sunflowers are always popular in the garden and flower bed. Some varieties grow too tall or have one huge flower that doesn’t last very long. Concert Bell sunflower has multiple clusters of 10 to 12 flowers on an erect stem. Each plant grows to a very uniform height of five to six feet and if used as a cut flower, makes an instant, ready-made bouquet from just one cut. The flowers appear earlier than many other sunflower varieties. Excellent seed germination makes this a very easy-to-grow plant that is great for children’s gardens. Because of its thick stem, shorter height, and smaller flowers, the plant can remain standing, even through strong winds.
I have never been impressed with wishbone flowers. They are also known by their genus, Torenia. This year’s AAS winner, Torenia Vertigo Deep Blue looks interesting, though. Torenias are short plants, between six and 12 inches, but trailing in a hanging basket they can reach two feet long. They need to be planted in large masses to make a visual impact or in containers that are near the viewing area. Torenia flowers are reminiscent of snapdragon flowers. Deep Blue has dark blue along the outer edge of the flowers, a pale blue throat, and a contrasting yellow center. Many Torenias don’t do well in heat or sun, but Deep Blue passed the tests in Florida and in the Mountain and Southwest regions.