My garden seed catalogs are arriving. I am always happy to find the All-America Selections, or AAS, logo in a plant's description. I know these plants have been tested in the AAS testing program. It is an independent, nonprofit organization that tests new plants. They have more than 40 test gardens, from Alaska and Canada to California and Florida. They also have over 175 display gardens all across the continent that are used not for judging but for showing gardeners how well the plants grow locally.
The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just an end-of-season harvest. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of a national AAS Award. Some plants will do better in either a hot, dry climate or a cool, humid one, so the country is divided into six regions where a plant might win one or more regional awards.
The flowering plants are evaluated for desirable qualities such as novel flower forms, flower colors, flowers held above the leaves, fragrance, length of flowering season and disease or pest tolerance or resistance. This week, we discuss the flowers; next week, we'll discuss the vegetables.
Apparently red is the color of the year for gardeners. Three of the four AAS winners this year are red.
There had never been a coleus AAS winner. The oddly named Main Street Beale Street coleus is a worthy winner. It has red leaves that stay red even when the plant is grown in the full-sun conditions that burn the leaves of a typical coleus. It can be grown in full-shade to full-sun conditions. The nice thing about colorful leaves is that the plant has color all the time, not just when it is in bloom. My favorite thing about this coleus is that it blooms as much as six weeks later than other coleuses!
As with all annual plants, coleus plants want to produce flowers and seeds before they die in the fall. The flowers on coleus plants are not too showy, and as they produce flowers, they stop growing colorful leaves. The flowers should be pinched off, but that requires work, so a coleus plant that is six weeks late producing flowers is great.
Echinacea Sombrero Baja Burgundy is a coneflower with deep violet-red flowers. Because this is a perennial plant, it was kept in the trial garden for three years. The AAS Judges noted its hardiness, sturdy branching and prolific blooming habit. This is a deer-resistant plant. Gardeners will enjoy prolific blooms from midsummer until the first frost.
Last year, the 12-inch-tall Baby Rose nasturtium was the first nasturtium to win since the 1930s, but now we have the larger Tip Top Rose nasturtium from the same plant breeder. It holds its flowers above the 15-inch-tall leaves. The rose-red flowers don't fade like many nasturtium flowers. This western region winner grows well in dry regions, where it can be used as a winter annual in warmer climates and as a spring annual in cooler areas. If you are looking to enliven a bland green salad, both the red flowers and round green leaves are edible and provide a peppery flavor.
The problem with many black-eyed Susans is that they have fungus disease problems on the leaves if grown in wet, humid conditions. American Gold Rush showed no sign of the common Septoria leaf spot fungus, even when grown in good conditions for the fungus. When planted two feet apart, this plant forms mounds of yellow flowers from July to September. The 2-inch-wide flowers cover the whole plant, making a very showy display.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.