This is the time of year when our gardens are at their best – growing, blooming and ready for harvest in our mind’s eye. These visions are inspired by the catlogs mounting on the kitchen and coffee tables. Their bright pictures and lush prose encourage us to think that we will have the best garden ever this year!
There are organizations that work to make those best gardens possible by testing plant varieties to let us know which will give us the best performance in our gardens. Perhaps the most well known is the All America Selections (www.all-americaselections.org). The AAS red, white and blue shield on seed racks is instantly recognizable. Ever since 1933 AAS staff and the gardeners at AAS trial gardens like those at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge have been testing flower and vegetable varieties to find those that can guarantee superior performance in a wide variety of climates and soils.
This year AAS has chosen two vegetables, Gretel white eggplant and Honey Bear acorn squash, one fruit, the Lambkin melon, and one flower, the Rain Blue and Purple viola.
In addition to dependability, the advantages of Gretel and Honey Bear are their moderate size and their earliness. Gretel produces shiny white mini-fruits that grow in clusters and are ready for harvest in 55 days after setting out seedlings. The plant is small enough to be suitable for a container garden.
Honey Bear acorn squash was developed by Dr. Brent Loy at the University of New Hampshire. At about one pound it is the perfect size for two ‘deliciously starchy and sweet” servings. The bush is compact, but each will produce three or four fruits per plant. It is an excellent keeper.
The Lambkin melon, classified as a Piel de Sapo or Christmas melon, has white juicy flesh that ripens only 65 to 75 days after setting out seedlings. Each melon will weigh between two to four pounds and stores well in a cool place or refrigerator.
Violas, otherwise known as Johnny jump ups, are one of the earliest spring flowers. The unique trait of Rain Purple and Blue is its ability to change color from purple and white to purple and blue as they mature. It has a trailing habit that makes it ideal for hanging planters and other containers as well as the flower garden.
The Perennial Plant Association (www.perennialplant.org) chooses a single plant as its Plant of the Year, looking for suitability over a wide range of climatic conditions, low maintenance, and with pest and disease resistance. This year Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ , an ornamental grass won the honor. It is a member of the Poaceae family; the species is native to Honshu Island, Japan. Each bright yellow blade of grass has thin green stripes, but in the fall it develops shades of pink and red. It will reach a height of 12-18 inches in clumps up to two feet. It is hardy in Zone 5.
I think ornamental grasses have become more popular over the years for the statement they make in the garden and for their ease of cultivation.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society gives out Gold Medals (www.goldmedalplants.org) to select plants. I was particularly interested in their choice this year of the “Grow Low” variety of fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica.
“Grow Low” is a deciduous ground cover, that can reach four feet, hardy to Zone 3, with dense green foliage that turns beautiful shades of red and orange in the fall. In the spring it produces panicles of small yellow flowers which turn into hairy red fruits that attract birds. It is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It is useful wherever it is difficult to mow, or there is a need to stabilize the soil. It also has the advantage of being a North American native.
If you are in the market for a tree, the PHS has chosen the “Marioka” weeping katsura tree this year. This beautiful tree with its graceful weeping habit is deer resistant, and will reach a height of 35 to 50 feet. It has blue green foliage and produces white flowers in the spring. I cannot count the times I have seen a beautiful tree in a garden, and been mystified as to its name before being told, once again, that it is a katsura.
Of course, we don’t always need organizations to tell us about the best plants. Sometimes they are given to us, but unless we become seed savers, the variety might be lost to us.
A reader recently asked me if I knew of a red paste tomato with a heart shape and very few seeds that her elderly friend called a ‘Polish tomato’. The friend is gone now and my reader has not been able to find this tomato in any catalog. My research in the Tomato Growers Supply Company (www.tomatogrowers.com) catalog came up with a “Polish” tomato that is described as a paste tomato but it is also described as sausage shaped, and the Heirloom Seeds (www.heirloomseeds.com) catalog lists a “Polish Paste” tomato, but it is described as pear shaped.
The Tomato Growers catalog also lists a heart shaped paste tomato with few seeds, but theirs is the “Amish Paste” tomato.
If anyone has any other suggestions, please do email me at commonweeder@gmail, or write to me at 43 Knott Road, Charlemont, MA 01339.
March 1, 2009
Don’t Forget! You still have time to enter the Johnny’s Selected Seeds Give Away. Just send a comment.