University of Illinois Extension

All-American Selection

For more information about these and other All-American Selections, check out the All-America Selections website at

All-America Selection vegetables and flowers have been grown for the last five years at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Smart Home garden, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“All-America Selections is an independent, nonprofit organization that tests new varieties then introduces only the best garden performers as AAS Winners,” said Ron Wolford. “The AAS Winners offer gardeners reliable new varieties that have proven their superior garden performance in trial grounds across North America.

“The following are All-America Selections that have generated the most buzz from the thousands of visitors to the Smart Home garden.”

Sunflower 'Ring of Fire'

‘Ring of Fire’ is a late season sunflower. It takes about 120 days to bloom from seed. It stands out in the garden with its golden petals and a ring of bright red around the brown center. It will grow four to five feet tall and makes a good cut flower. ‘Ring of Fire’ needs full sun for best growth.

Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Pearl’

This is an outstanding plant with almost black leaves. The plant produces pearl-like shiny peppers. Eventually the peppers will turn a bright red contrasting beautifully with the black foliage. The peppers are very hot. It will grow 18- 20 inches tall and does well in containers. ‘Black Pearl’ needs full sun.

Zinnia ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’

‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’ has an unusual bicolor pattern with a scarlet-rose center and yellow petal edges. It is easy to grow from seed to flower in eight weeks and has a long bloom period from early summer to frost. It makes a great cut flower that will last for two weeks. Does well in containers and is heat and drought tolerant.

Zinnia ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’

Zinnia ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’ has outstanding white flowers with rose-colored stripes. It is easy to grow and heat and drought tolerant. It will bloom throughout the summer and seldom needs deadheading. ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’ is resistant to mildew and leaf spot. It needs full sun for best growth.

Gaillardia ‘Sundance Bicolor’

The globe-shaped mahogany red and yellow bicolor flowers will often cover the plant. ‘Sundance Bicolor’ is heat and drought tolerant and will spread 15 to 16 inches. Full sun is a must. It does well in containers and hanging baskets. No pinching or staking is needed.

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’

This kale has outstanding shiny, fringed leaves. The flower head is about 10 to 12 inches across. The leaves will start to turn red when temperatures go below 55 degrees for at least two weeks. Needs full sun and will bloom from seed in 90 days. It looked great in the garden well into late November.

Pepper, Ornamental 'Chilly Chili'

This ornamental pepper is kid-safe. It has no “heat.” The fruit goes from yellow to orange to red, a real kaleidoscope of color. ‘Chilly Chili’ is very tolerant of hot weather. It will grow about a foot tall and spread six to 10 inches. It can be used as an ornamental garnish on salads.

Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’

‘Bright Lights” has probably gotten the most buzz in the garden. The yellow, pink, violet, orange, red and white stems attract attention. It can withstand the summer heat unlike lettuce and spinach. It is easy to grow from seed and is ready for harvest in 60 days.