It's nearly time to hear from plant-testing organizations about their new recommendations for 2009.
The first to come in is the All America Selections. These plants are new varieties of F1 hybrids recommended by a panel of independent professional horticultural judges based on the results of seed company trial grounds. The trials are conducted by universities or other horticultural institutions under the watchful eye of official AAS judges. These varieties have never before been offered to the general public. Whether they become popular and are given second chances in our own home gardens is something we, the growers and buyers, will determine.
All America Selections was formed in the early part of the 20th century as a way for people to learn about new varieties of flowers and vegetables being introduced by hybridizers. This is also about the same time that garden clubs began bursting onto the scene and backyard gardeners like us were itching to get our hands on new varieties of plants.
AAS trials began in 1932 and are conducted every year. Gold Medal awards are given to breakthroughs in plant breeding, and these awards are rare. Traditionally, only two Gold Medal awards are given every 10 years. But each year, the AAS recognizes new flowers and vegetables that their judges have determined to be superior to others on the market.
For the upcoming growing season, the AAS has recommended only one flower, a variety of viola with the colorful, long moniker, "Rain Blue and Purple."
I don't normally plant violas in my garden. In our neck of the woods, violas are perennial weeds that fill our backyards in early spring with thousands of tiny purple flowers. While they are delightful to look at after a long winter, they often creep into the flower gardens by way of seed dispersal. We carry their seeds on our feet, as do our pets. Birds will leave them behind as well. While we can mow them in our yards, provided we don't care they are there and aren't putting down chemicals to rid our lawns of broadleaf weeds, once they are in with the flowers, they are somewhat difficult to get rid of. They have stubborn roots that can be difficult to pull up. But I have nothing against violas. I let them run wild in my back yard where my dogs run wild as well. (I'm a little pickier about the front). In fact, I think they are a lovely little plant, closely related to pansies, those little flowers with the happy faces.
I would consider; however, planting a cultivated viola. Rain Blue and Violet is interesting in that its flowers change colors from purple to white, back to purple and fading to blue as they age. According to the AAS, this flower is quite reliable in providing continuous flowering for months. I can picture a carpet of these violas in their varying shades surrounding a bed of yellow daffodils of all sizes.
While the viola is the only flower awarded by the AAS for 2009, there were three vegetables on the list. The first is a white eggplant named "Gretel." It is an early eggplant, ready to harvest 55 days after transplanting young seedlings into the garden. According to the AAS, this fruit has tender skin, few seeds and a very sweet flavor. If, like me, you like to saute diced eggplant in oil and garlic and then toss it into a stir fry with rice or pasta, this sounds like a good one to try.
The next vegetable on the list is a melon called "Lambkin." Advertised as a gourmet melon that matures early and weighs between 2 and 4 pounds, the melon is usually mottled with yellow and green. It has white, juicy flesh and is oval in shape.
The last award winner is an acorn squash called "Honey Bear." This variety is said to be tolerant of powdery mildew and will continue to ripen long after other melon varieties have succumbed to the fungal disease. It is also a high-yield producing plant that tolerates cool, moist conditions.
All of the award winners are F1 hybrids. In case you were wondering, F1 stands for Filial 1, or the crossing of two parent plants to produce a first generation new variety. This means that you won't be able to save the seeds and expect to end up with the same plant you started with. You will, instead, end up with the characteristics of one of the parent plants or perhaps something else entirely. But that doesn't mean this is a bad thing. First generations of plants occur in nature all the time with the natural crossing of seeds from one variety to another. This is what maintains diversity in nature.
If you are interested in purchasing seeds of the Rain Blue and Purple viola, or any of the award-winning vegetables, check with your favorite local garden center for the All America Selection seed display in early spring. Seeds also are available online and through catalogs from various sources, including Johnny's Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com); Stokes Seeds Ltd. (www.stokeseeds.com); J.W. Jung Seed Co. (www.jungseed.com); and Geo. W. Park Seed Co. Inc. (www.parkseed.com), to name just a few.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at