I start to think about spring after Dec. 21. This seems a bit ridiculous, considering winter is just beginning. However, the days are slowly getting longer. My gardening soul knows, and it makes me anticipate spring, which will be here before we know it.
Each year around this time, I explore the new plants selected by the All-America Selections, whose mission statement is “to promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” This nonprofit organization tests new plants submitted by plant breeders and then informs gardeners about the best of these plants. Independent judges at the AAS look for “significantly improved qualities such as earliness to bloom or harvest, disease or pest tolerance, novel colors or flavors” and a number of other potential improvements to a plant’s garden performance.
One 2014 AAS National Vegetable Award winner is a green bean. It is a “dwarf French extra fine bean adapted for window boxes and pots as well as for the garden.” This is interesting because more people are doing container gardening and are always looking for good varieties that can tolerate a small root area. Another National Vegetable winner is a golden yellow pepper called “Mama Mia Giallo.” This compact plant gives a huge yield and ripens within 95 days of transplanting.
One National Bedding Plant Award Winner is a lovely gaura called “Sparkle White.” I’m a fan of gaura anyway with its butterfly-like flowers. This one has “an exceptionally long period of bloom,” producing many flowers. Petunia “African Sunset” is another Bedding Plant winner. The color is a gorgeous deep orange. The plants grow 12 inches by 20 inches.
A Regional Flower winner is a stunning penstemon “Arabesque Red.” This is the first penstemon to be an AAS winner in more than 80 years. The deep-reddish-pink flowers that are almost 1 inch across are tubular and have a beautiful white throat. This variety is perfect for a pollinator garden and sure to attract hummingbirds.
If you need a spring pick-me-up, go to all-americaselections.org/index.cfm and peruse the winners not only for this year, but for previous years. These are the plant world’s best in show!
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-887-2252.