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All-America Selections 2012 Award Winners

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One way I've found to pick the best plants for my garden is to look at the All-America winners for the New Year. If it has been tested and approved in the All-America Selections (AAS) testing program, I can trust the plant to grow in my yard. Almost 40 test gardens from Alaska and Canada to California and Florida comprise the AAS. It's very useful to have a test garden in a similar climate as your own landscape. AAS also has more than 175 display gardens all across the continent that are not used for judging but are used to show gardeners how well the plants grow locally.

AAS trial gardens have tested around 50 varieties of plants every year since 1932, and they accept only previously unsold varieties. The AAS Award recognizes a flower or vegetable for significant achievements proven superior to all other plants on the market. The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just at an end-of-season harvest. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of an AAS Award.

The judge evaluates entries, looking for desirable qualities, such as novel flower forms, flower colors, flowers held above the leaves, fragrance, length of flowering season, and disease or pest tolerance or resistance. Vegetables are judged for such traits as earliness to harvest, total yield, fruit taste, fruit quality, ease of harvest, plant habit, and disease and pest resistance.

When you see the red, white and blue logo of All-America Selections on seed packets, bedding plant tags or in catalogs, it's a promise of gardening success. The familiar AAS shield logo has changed this year to a new, updated logo. It has the AAS in the center with the words "All-America Selections Winner" printed around it. AAS has taken the guesswork out of finding reliable new flower and vegetable varieties that show improvements over other varieties. Last year there were seven winners, but the previous few years only had four winners. For 2012, we are back to only four.

Salvia 'Summer Jewel Pink' is a sister to last year's AAS Winner, Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red,' this compact plant has continuous flowers throughout the growing season.

Like the red one, the blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias. Hummingbirds will love the pink tube shaped flowers just as much as they do the red ones. Bred by Takii & Co., Ltd.

Peppers love heat, and Ornamental Pepper 'Black Olive' was a standout, especially in the southern gardens in the summer heat of the 2011 trials. All season long, this beauty kept its upright habit with nicely draping leaves and dark purple/black fruit, which appears in small clusters along the stems. As summer progresses, the fruits mature to red, giving a beautiful contrast against the dark purple foliage and bright purple flowers. It can be used as a 20-inch border plant in front of tall plants, as color splash for containers or as a cut flower in mixed bouquets. Bred by Seeds By Design.

Pepper 'Cayennetta' F1 is an excellent-tasting, mildly spicy pepper that is very easy to grow. This 3- to 4-inch chili pepper yielded bigger fruits from a very well-branched upright plant. It requires no staking, making it a perfect plant for container or patio gardens. It has good cold tolerance as well as dense foliage cover to protect the fruits from sun scorch, and it handles extreme heat very well. This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you're gardening. Community gardeners who grow for food pantries will benefit from the heavy yield and prolific fruit set from each plant. Bred by Floranova Ltd.

Watermelon 'Faerie' F1 has a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes yet still yields sweet, pink-red flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. The vines are vigorous, yet they spread only to 11 feet, which means they take up less space in the garden. Each 7- to 8-inch fruit weighs only four to six pounds, making it a perfect family-size melon. It has good disease and insect tolerance as well as the prolific fruit set that starts early and continues throughout the season. Bred by Known-You Seed Company.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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