The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

New Plants in the News for 2012

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

I have a Pavlovian response to the mere glimpse of a new garden catalog in my mailbox. I drool over each page of voluptuous vegetables and bodacious blooms. Catalogs are part reunion and part show premiere. We can revisit our favorite plant friends and salivate over tempting new plant stars.

A great deal of toil, trouble and time goes in to getting new plants into those catalogs. The plants must survive the producer's quality check than on to independent growers for their critique.

To help us wade through the jungle of plant choices groups such as All America Selections (AAS) announce their winners each year. AAS, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Winners are tested at trial gardens across North America including the Hartley Gardens at University of Illinois Arboretum. Each winner must show superior qualities or traits that distinguish them from similar varieties in side-by-side trials.

For 2012 the AAS winners are all sun lovers and include 'Summer Jewel Pink' salvia, 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry' vinca, 'Black Olive' ornamental pepper, 'Cayennetta' pepper and 'Faerie' watermelon.

'Summer Jewel Pink' salvia is sibling to 2011 AAS Winner 'Summer Jewel Red' salvia. Salvias are a must-have in the garden with their spike flowers and long-season bloom. This dwarf sized, compact salvia has prolific blooms throughout the growing season. As a bonus, the blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias used as comparisons. And of course, the hummingbirds love pink, just as much as they do red.

'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry' vinca is unique with its velvety deep purple 2-inch flowers with a contrasting white eye. This superb accent plant will work beautifully in combination with blue, pink, white or lavender. Vincas are easy-to-grow plants with excellent tolerance to drought and heat. Mature plants are an easy-to-use 10-14 inches tall.

Over the years I have developed a special fondness for ornamental peppers for their beauty and durability. 'Black Olive' ornamental pepper stands proudly alongside the other ornamental peppers with its upright habit. Dark purple is the theme for this plant. The dark purple leaves add a flare of distinction with other plants such as pink petunias. The flowers are purple as well and they produce dark purple (almost black) peppers that appear in small clusters along the stems. As summer progresses, the fruits mature to red giving a striking contrast against the dark foliage. At twenty inches tall 'Black Olive is a fabulous container plant, border plant, or as a backdrop in a flower garden.

For a winning vegetable 'Cayennetta' is an excellent tasting mildly spicy pepper that is very easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. The prolific 3 to 4-inch chili peppers form on a very well branched upright plant. It requires no staking which makes it a perfect plant for container or patio gardens. As with most peppers 'Cayennetta' loves hot summers; however, unique to this variety is that it has good cold tolerance. It also has a dense leaf cover to protect fruits from sun scorch. This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you're gardening.

'Faerie' is a non-traditional watermelon with its thinly striped creamy yellow rind. The crisp flesh is a sweet pink-red with high sugar content. The yellow rind is almost as good as a pop-up turkey timer to tell you when the watermelons are ripe. Fruits reach about 7-8 inches and prolific fruit set starts early and continues throughout the season. Watermelons do need plenty of room in the garden as these vines reach 11 feet long. 'Faerie' shows good disease and insect tolerance.

Thanks to AAS for information and pictures. Check out pictures of the winners at Just don't drool on your keyboard.

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