The All America Selections have been around since 1933 helping gardeners plant seeds, and buy nursery plants that have been proven to be dependable and giving high performance in many situations. This year they have chosen ‘Black Olive’ an ornamental pepper; ‘Cayanetta’, a mildly spice pepper; ‘Faerie’ an unusual yellow watermelon with the traditional pink/red interior; and ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ salvia.
All of these are annuals and all demand full sun. ‘Black Olive’ is very heat tolerant, not a challenge we have in our area. What surprised me is that ‘Black Olive’ was chosen in the flower category. It is a useful plant because of its dark foliage and lovely purple flowers, and because it can be grown in a container as well as in the ground.
‘Cayanetta’ can also be grown in a container, so those who like to do some spicy cooking can have good peppers close at hand on the deck or patio even if they do not have a big garden. The little red peppers, about three inches long, are very pretty.
It is always fun when a familiar and favorite fruit takes a new form. ‘Faerie’ is a good choice for the home gardener because the vines are slightly smaller than regular watermelons, only about 11 feet long. Also, the fruits average between four and six pounds, a perfect size for a family dessert. This is a crop that should be started indoors, preferably on a heat mat, a month before the expected last frost date. Fruit should ripen 60 days after transplanting.
‘Summer Jewel Pink’ is an annual salvia that will grow to no more than two feet tall and needs no deadheading to keep it in bloom from late spring into fall. It is an upright plant that needs no staking and does well in a container or in the ground. Like its 2011 predecessor ‘Summer Jewel Red’ salvia, it attracts pollinators like bees and hummingbirds over the course of its long bloom season. ‘Summer Jewel Red’ bears up under heavy wind and rain, and the goldfinches love its seed.
Once an All America Selection has been chosen, every year those seeds are marked with the AAS logo. Some fall out of use, but many remain favorites for decades.
AAS Trial gardens are operated all over the country and the results of those trials are tallied at the end of the year. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society has the only AAS Trial Garden in Massachusetts. The Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge has a display garden of AAS seed winners, and there is an AAS Display Garden in Newton Center maintained by the Newton Community Pride Beautification Committee operated by volunteers.
I have found the annual blue salvia, ‘Victoria Blue,’ a Plant of the Year every year in my garden. I use it as an edging around my rose Shed Bed where the 18 inch spikes of rich blue look terrific with the pink roses. The salvia family is a large one, and if you are not already familiar with annual varieties ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ would be an excellent introduction.
While the AAS chooses top annual plants, the Perennial Plant Association has chosen a top perennial every year since 1990. The 2012 Perennial of the Year is Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost.’ Brunneras are handsome shade loving plants that have forget-me-not-like flowers in the spring. ‘Jack Frost’ is notable for the silvery overlay and dark green veining. It is extremely hardy and grows in a mounded form about 18 inches in diameter with flower stems that are also about 18 inches.
‘Jack Frost’ does not have the kind of fragrance that deters deer, but the foliage is rough and does not appeal to deer who apparently have tender tongues.
I first saw these beautiful plants on the Bridge of Flowers where they are part of the shady Shelburne side entry, along with hostas, ferns and other shade loving plants. The golden grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola,’ the 2009 Perennial of the Year, seems to be a cascade of light, and along with ‘Jack Frost’ it brightens the shade in the Bridge’s entry garden.
I love seeing all the Plant of the Year choices various organizations choose because I can be sure they have been chosen for dependability in many parts of our country. When going through catalogs you will see seeds and plants marked with award logos. If you have never grown an annual salvia or a brunnera, you can hardly go wrong choosing the variety of the year for your own garden. Mostly you just have to pay attention to whether a plant requires sun or shade, however AAS and the Perennial Plant Association have good informational websites that will give you full cultural information about this year’s plants, and all the plants from the past.
Watch for award winning plants in the catalogs that are filling your mailbox right now, and in garden centers in the spring. All America Selections are available as seeds, and as starts.
As I write it is snowing and blowing. It feels like winter has arrived. At last I can believe that spring will arrive too. I hope I won’t have to wait too long.