University of Illinois Extension

All-America Selections Results for 2005

Winter seed catalogs will begin to arrive, many promoting seeds as “new for 2005,” but the real “new” varieties are determined by All-America Selections (AAS), said Greg Stack, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Who determines what is new?  It is the job of a 73-year-old organization, All-America Selections,” said Stack.  “It has been looking at a lot of ‘new’ flowers and vegetables over the years from private and public plant breeders at its Downers Grove headquarters.”
In order to test the new varieties sent to it, AAS sends the samples to about 35 trial gardens in the United States and Canada, where independent judges grow the plants and evaluate them over a period of several years.

“Because the plants are grown in such widely different growing conditions, these ‘new’ varieties are put to the test to see which ones hold up well to the claims of breeders and the growing conditions of the trial garden,” Stack explained.  “After several years in the field, judges come back with their remarks and those that get consistently high ratings in a majority of trial gardens are awarded the red, white and blue shield of AAS for a particular year. “This is why you see the emblem attached to some varieties.  In 2005, three flowers and three vegetables have qualified for the shield.”

Stack described the six winners.

‘Arizona Sun’ is the first flower winner.  A mahogany red and bright yellow gaillardia, it has three-inch blooms and is constantly in flower all summer,” said Stack.  It is a compact grower to about 10-12 inches making it great for containers. Even the spent blooms are attractive in that they look like tufts of seed. It is easy to grow from seed and though it is an annual in some areas, with a little protection it may over-winter.  It is great for cutting and for bringing butterflies to a garden.”

The second new flower is a blue-flowered vinca called ‘First Kiss Blueberry’.  The large, two-inch blooms have a darker center which accentuates the violet blue color.  Mature plants grow to about 12-16 inches and are great for the sunny border or in containers, Stack said. As with all vincas, it has great heat tolerance.

“Rounding out the flowers is a new zinnia called ‘Magellan Coral’. This zinnia is part of a series of zinnias called ‘Magellan’ and offers radiant coral blooms,” he said.  “The fully double dahlia flower has five-to-six-inch blooms that are on top of very compact plants growing to about 15 inches.  Earliness to bloom and undemanding of attention in the garden are some of the qualities that drew praise from the judges.”

On the vegetable front, varieties of eggplant, tomato and squash earned the AAS emblem.
‘Fairy Tale’ ornamental eggplant is a small plant with decorative miniature fruits that are white with violet/purple stripes. The fruit are sweet with a tender skin and few seeds.  There is an extended window for harvest and the fruits can be picked when young, about one-to-two ounces or they can be left on the plant until they double in weight without compromising the flavor or tenderness. Harvest can be expected in about 49-to-51 days after setting out transplants, Stack said. ‘Fairy Tale’ makes a great ornamental plant for those that like to grow vegetables in containers. It offers a tropical look with interesting flowers.

It is, he added, the first eggplant to win the AAS emblem since 1939.

The new squash, a winter variety, is called ‘Bonbon’, Stack said. This buttercup type squash has three improved traits.

“It is a restricted growth habit squash that means limited-space gardeners can have squash without it taking over the whole garden,” he noted.  It also has earliness qualities and is superior for eating.  The upright habit plant can spread about eight feet.

“When seeds are sown in the garden, look for the first ripe fruit about 81 days after sowing.  That’s almost a full week ahead of others.  The boxy-shaped, dark green squash is painted with silver stripes and weighs about three-to-four pounds.  The orange flesh when cooked delivers a sweet flavor, hence the name ‘Bonbon’.”

“The new tomato is ‘Sugary,’ he said.  “The name says it all. The trial judges raved about its sweet flavor.  The half-ounce, dark pink fruit has a sugar content of 9.5 percent, which is considerably higher than other varieties.  The fruit is produced in clusters like grapes and can be eaten like them.  It has a unique shape--oval with a pointed blossom end.

“High-yielding and vigorous, the plants probably need tomato cages in most gardens.  Plants will start to produce fruit in about 60 days from the time transplants are set out.”

Stack encouraged gardeners to consider planting new things and decide for themselves what works best in their gardens.