Just as football teams have to prove themselves to make it to the Super Bowl, plants must show proven performance to be considered champions.
The University of Tennessee and other institutions have special gardens for testing potential winners. Judges rate the plant candidates on many characteristics. They have to be consistent. They have to be tough. They have to be resistant to attack by enemies. They have to be colorful.
Each year the best of the new vegetables and flowers receive the coveted All-America Selections award. They are tested by a network of independent judges who determine their garden performance is superior.
The goal of AAS is to find new varieties of flowers and vegetables that are low-maintenance, resistant to diseases and willing to grow in a variety of climates. The flowers often have showy foliage or blooms in new colors. Vegetables become winners because of terrific flavor or high yield.
Three flowers and four vegetables won AAS certification this year.
* Viola: Shangri-La Marina was picked because it flowers early and abundantly. The 1-inch-wide blooms have light blue petals with a velvety dark blue face that is surrounded by a narrow white border. This unique color pattern won the judges' vote. These pansy-type flowers are very cold-hardy. They are planted in the fall and grow through the winter. In the spring they produce a mass of color that lasts until June.
* Gaillardia: Arizona Apricot won an award for its unique apricot color. The plant grows about a foot tall and has 3-inch daisy-like flowers. These plants will bloom in zones 2-10 from early summer into autumn.
* Salvia: Summer Jewel Red stands out because it flowers in early spring and continues to autumn. Goldfinches swarm the plant for seeds. Hummingbirds find nectar in the bright red blossoms. The plants are drought-tolerant once established. This selection is ideal for full-sun patio containers.
* Ornamental kale: Glamour Red is the first kale to win the award in 78 years of testing. It won the judges' vote mainly for its unique shiny, green leaves. The heads have an intense and brilliant color. Each plant is a fringed-leaf type with flower-head size of about 10 inches. Leaf coloring begins when night temperatures fall below 55 F for about two weeks. These plants should look good in the garden from November to March.
* Pumpkin: Hijinks has a smooth orange skin with distinctive grooves. The stem stays firmly attached. This feature provides a great handle for carrying, plus it gives an elegant appearance. These small pumpkins average about 6 pounds. This is just the right size for kids to pick their own. They are ideal for painting or carving.
* Tomato: Lizzano plants have bright red, cherry-size fruits. They are compact and only grow about a foot and a half tall and 20 inches wide. It is disease-tolerant so it will produce later into the fall than other varieties. Terenzo is another cherry tomato that won an award. It is exceptional because it has a low-growing or tumbling-type growth habit. This feature makes it ideal for hanging baskets. The fruit are very sweet and seem to be resistant to cracking.
For more on AAS winners, visit www.all-americaselections.org.
For the University of Tennessee Flower Trials, visit www.utgardens.tennessee.edu.
Contact Tom Stebbins at 855-6113 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org