All-America Selections helps us decide what to grow

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By Jeneen Wiche

I’ve followed the All-America Selections for as long as I can remember. 

It was always a designation that my father trusted and we often trialed the plants in our own family garden the year prior to their introduction. Some of the more memorable plants include “Purple Wave” petunia, “Magestic Giants” pansy mix and the “Profusion” zinnias. 

Sure, there were memorable vegetables in the past but it seems as though the AAS is responding to the increase in vegetable gardening interest by including more vegetables then ever each year.

The AAS process goes to great lengths to find plants that offer some consistency despite our gardening prowess or the weather’s wrath. 

Certainly the performance of a plant depends on where you live, what you’ve offered it and what kind season is experienced but in most places consistency is rare, especially in Kentuckiana. So the AAS designation can help a bit when we are trying to decide what to grow each spring. Consider their selections for 2009.

After professional assessments and trial periods based on superior taste, color, bloom, vigor and resistance to pests, drought and heat the AAS have been announced and the majority are vegetables we can eat next summer. 

This pleases me! 

The winners include an acorn squash called “Honey Bear,” a gourmet eggplant called “Gretel” and a melon called “Lambkin;” the cool season bedding plant winner is Viola “Rain Blue and Purple.”

The AAS came up with a cool season bedding award just a couple of years ago.  They wanted to highlight new annual introductions that will persist into the cool seasons of fall and winter; and, in most cases, return the following spring. 

This year we find these qualities in Viola “Rain Blue and Purple.”

In the case of this Viola, there is some heat tolerance, too, so if it comes back next spring it will last a bit longer into early summer then most. The blooms of “Rain Blue and Purple” change as they mature so in a container you will enjoy lots of small cascading blooms as they open purple and white changing to purple and blue.

Last year the AAS introduced a small fingerling eggplant called “Hansel;” this year ‘“Gretel’” takes center stage. This early maturing, small fingerling eggplant is pure white and has a delicious sweet taste. 

The “Hansel” and “Gretel” mix has turned me into an eggplant lover again.  Both the plant and fruit stays relatively small so can be container grown on the patio, as well.

Melon “Lambkin” is another early ripening variety with sweet, white, juicy fruit. The green flecked, yellow rind is thin so not much goes to waste. The selling point for this one is the unique aromatic flavor and a longer shelf life if stored in the refrigerator.

To round out the late season vegetable garden you may want to try squash “Honey Bear.” This acorn-type squash was developed for easy eating, really. All you have to do is slice it in half, remove the seeds and bake in the oven. 

With a name like “Honey Bear,” you can imagine that the taste is sweet and rich when cooked. 

The plant is bushy and compact so well suited to the smaller vegetable garden; it is resistant to powdery mildew and promises a high yield (about 100 days from seed to harvest). 

I love winter squash but usually have low yielding plants because of powdery mildew; I will be trying “Honey Bear” next year.