Extension Educator, Horticulture
News flash from the underground groundhog news, "Punxsutawney Phil is sick of winter". I'll bet even Phil is dreaming of gardens. One of my great joys is drooling over plant catalogs. I can revisit with my favorite plant friends and imagine how I might use new plant acquaintances.
All America Selections announces nine new varieties that earned the AAS award for 2010. The All America Selections, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars. Winners are tested at trial gardens across North America including the Hartley Gardens at University of Illinois Arboretum. Each winner has superior qualities or traits that distinguish them from similar varieties in side by side trials. 2010 winners include a perennial flower, annual flowers and a vegetable.
The past few years we have seen a multitude of purple coneflower cultivars. 'PowWow Wild Berry' purple coneflower differs from all others for flower color, branching and plant size. The deep rose-purple 3 to 4 inch flowers retain their bright color as they age. With the additional branching and numerous flowers 'PowWow Wild Berry' makes quite a flower show as a perennial in a sunny garden.
'Mesa Yellow' gaillardia is the first hybrid blanket flower with a mounded plant habit and prolific flowering. I've always liked blanket flowers but the old cultivars had that "bad hair day" look. Breeders called in the hairdresser to get 'Mesa Yellow'. The 3-inch daisy-like flowers offer a color show throughout the summer on neat, mounded plants. As an annual flower 'Mesa Yellow' reaches 20 to 22 inches tall in a full sun garden. They are adaptable to smaller space gardens or cascading over containers. 'Mesa Yellow' plants are wind and rain resistant unlike most blanket flowers. 'Mesa Yellow' blooms two to three weeks earlier than comparison blanket flowers.
I know it's hard to believe we need one more marigold, but they are tough annual flowers with a myriad of sizes and colors. 'Moonsong Deep Orange' marigold is a true Illini orange. The double flowers are 2.5 to 3.5 inches for an eye-popping show. The vigorous 12-15 inches tall plants are heat and drought tolerant and easy to grow from seed.
'Twinny Peach' is a snapdragon without the snap. As a double or butterfly flower form it lacks the jaws or joints to snap. The large open flowers of 'Twinny Peach' are winners with their color blend of peach, yellow and light orange tones. No other snapdragon offers this range of colors. It's a knockout matched with blue flowers or purple foliage plants. In the full sun garden, 'Twinny Peach' will produce abundant flower spikes with plenty to cut for fresh bouquets.
I've always thought zinnias have been underestimated as tough annual flowers. The old cultivars did have a nasty habit of getting fungal leaf diseases, but there are several new cultivars that combine a zinnia's durability with disease resistance. 'Zahara Starlight Rose' zinnia offers a new rose and white bicolored flower as well as resistance to fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew. As a zinnia it is heat and drought tolerant and easy to grow in sunny gardens. At 12 to 14 inches tall and wide it's perfect for landscapes and containers. Other colors in the 'Zahara' zinnia series were also 2010 winners including 'Double Zahara Fire' and 'Double Zahara Cherry'.
One vegetable won a 2010 AAS designation. In a taste test against comparisons, 'Shiny Boy' watermelon won overwhelmingly for its sweet tropical flavor and crisp texture. The red fleshed melon with dark seeds weighs in at about 20 pounds.
'Endurio Sky Blue Martien' viola is also a winner with its mounding plants covered in flowers. Thanks to AAS for information and pictures. Check out past winners at http://www.all-americaselections.org/