The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Highlighting classic plant varieties

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Let's start the new year by embracing our addiction. We gardeners are obsessed with the diverse, the distinct, the weird and the wonderful. We love new stuff – new plants, new tools, new designs. Plant suppliers are happy to feed our addiction. However if we find a favorite, we stick to it like cockleburs to a dog.

The All America Selections, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars with its new introductions. 2007 marks their 75th anniversary of bringing new plants to gardens throughout the country. Winners are tested at trial grounds across North America including the Hartley Gardens at the University of Illinois Arboretum. Each winner has superior qualities or traits that distinguish them from similar varieties in side by side trials. In honor of their 75th anniversary AAS is highlighting a few of its classic past introductions.

Dianthus 'Ideal Violet' has held the attention of annual lovers for 15 years. Originally introduced in 1992, 'Ideal Violet' colors a garden with 1½-inch single violet blooms. The reason for this "fan club" is cold and heat tolerance. 'Ideal Violet' was bred in Valence, the South of France, where winter is quite cold and summer is very hot. Its parentage of D. chinensis (China pink) and D. barbatus (Sweet William.) combines earliness to bloom and continuous flowering.

'Ideal Violet' plants will reach about 10 to 12 inches tall and branch about a foot wide. Unlike many other annuals, 'Ideal Violet' tolerates a wide variation in seasonal temperatures. Dianthus 'Ideal Violet' deserves a place in the early spring garden next to pansies and violas. Easy to grow with minimum garden care, 'Ideal Violet' is recommended for containers or landscapes.

Originally introduced in 1966, Pansy 'Majestic Giants Mix' has withstood the test of time. The plants, sprouting large 4-inch blooms with the traditional pansy face, have been planted by four generations of gardeners. It's perfect in the spring or fall garden or container. 'Majestic Giants Mix' was the first pansy that did not require cool temperatures for flower initiation.

While a small plant, only 6 to 8 inches tall, 'Majestic Giants Mix' enhanced its diminutive size with huge blooms. Its hybrid vigor enabled 'Majestic Giants Mix' plants to thrive under diverse growing conditions in full sun or partial shade. 'Majestic Giants Mix' also offers bright vivid flower colors from blue, scarlet, cherry red, yellow, and orange to pure white. It is an exceptionally long-lived pansy for spring and fall seasons.

For a long time gardeners have wanted a large, beefsteak-type tomato that produced a bountiful harvest early in the season but also had plenty of disease resistance. Their dreams came true in 1994 with 'Big Beef.' This AAS Winner exhibited all of these desirable traits and it continues as one of my favorites.

For over twelve years, 'Big Beef' has remained one of the most popular red tomatoes in North America. Almost foolproof, 8 to 12 ounce fruit can be harvested beginning about 73 days from transplanting into warm garden soil. 'Big Beef' is a poster child for easy to grow plants. The hybrid vigor is obvious from seedling size to vining plant. 'Big Beef' bears beautiful fruit that seldom cracks or has blossom end rot. In my mind it's the perfect size for one person grazing in the garden.

Thank you to All America Selections for providing the information.

January 20, 2007: Herb Day, 8:00 am – 4:30 pm, Holiday Inn, Urbana, IL, educational sessions and shopping area. $49 cost includes lunch. Reservations due by January 12. Mail checks, payable to the University of Illinois, to: Herb Day 2007, Attn: Carol Preston, S-406 Turner Hall, 1102 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, Illinois 61801. For information PH: 217-333-7738 or

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