In the Garden:
Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun' is a compact blanketflower variety that has won awards this year from both the All-America Selections and Fleuroselect.
With the hoopla of the Academy Awards just weeks away, it seems like a good time to think about award-winning plants, too. What will the best-dressed gardens be wearing this season?
There are numerous organizations that offer awards for outstanding plants, and each group has its own criteria. Some promote only new varieties, while others award plants of outstanding merit, new or not. Some focus on regional suitability, while others have a national, or even international scope. Browsing these awards sites is an enjoyable way to spend a wintry afternoon, daydreaming of gardens to come.
Here are a few of the most popular and best awards programs for our region.
The mission statement of All-America Selections (AAS) is "To promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America." To this end, since 1932 AAS has worked with seed companies to conduct trials nationwide to evaluate plants under a range of growing conditions. This year, AAS has awarded the following plants: Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun', Vinca 'First Kiss Blueberry', Zinnia F1 'Magellan Coral', Eggplant F1 'Fairy Tale', Winter Squash F1 'Bonbon', and Tomato F1 'Sugary'. Visit the AAS Web site at http://www.all-americaselections.org for more information on these and past winners.
Perennial Plant Association
A professional trade association dedicated to "improving the perennial plant industry by providing education to enhance the production, promotion and utilization of perennial plants," the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) chooses one perennial as its annual Perennial Plant of the Year. The criteria are that the plant is suitable for a wide range of climate types, low maintenance, easily propagated, and exhibits multiple seasonal interest. This year, the 2005 Plant of the Year is (envelope, please)... Helleborus x hybridus (Lenten rose). Read all about it at the PPA Web site: http://www.perennialplant.org/ppahome.htm
Founded in 1999, The Athens Select program is a collection of unique heat- and humidity-tolerant plant varieties that have been tested for two to three years at the University of Georgia Trial Gardens. Perennial plant guru Dr. Allan Armitage at The University of Georgia makes the initial designations, and final selection is done by the members of Athens Select. As an added bonus, propagators of Athens Select plant material agree to test their plants to maintain virus-free stock, assuring customers of healthy, robust plants. Visit the Athens Select Web site for their list of plants: http://www.uga.edu/athensselect/
Gold Medal Plants
A program of The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Gold Medal Plant Award program recognizes trees, shrubs, and woody vines of outstanding merit. Plants are evaluated and chosen for their appearance, performance, pest and disease resistance, ease of growing, and hardiness in USDA Zones 5 to 7. (Most of the winners are excellent choices over a much broader geographic range.)
This year's winners are Gelsemium sempervirens 'Margarita' (Carolina jasmine), Calycanthus floridus 'Michael Lindsey' (Carolina allspice), Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold' (winterberry holly), and Abies koreana (Korean fir). Read about these plants at the PHS Web site: http://www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org/garden/goldwinners.html
An international trade group of the ornamental plants industry, Fleuroselect tests and promotes new flower varieties, and also acts as a watchdog for illegal propagation of patent-protected varieties. Toward its goal of supporting growers and stimulating plant breeding, Fleuroselect conducts plant trials across Europe. This year's award winners include Coreopsis grandiflora 'Rising Sun', Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun', Lavatera trimestris 'Twins Hot Pink', and Rudbeckia hirta 'Maya'.
Like most gardeners, I have my favorite varieties that I grow every year, and I'll add to those when something strikes my fancy, whether it's new, or an award-winner, or not. What will the best-dressed gardens be wearing this season? I'll be watching, but my gardens will probably be dressed as I am, in familiar, comfortable raiments that anchor me in the present while connecting me to past and future growing seasons.
In other words, I'll likely wear the same old t-shirts and work boots I wore last year, and I'll wear them again next year. And for the most part, I'll plant my usual favorites winnowed from a decade and a half of trial-and-error gardens. However, I admit that every once in a while it's a thrill to have a new luxury -- whether it's a new pair of earrings, or a newly introduced plant!
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