Living

Plants also get awards

KENNEWICK -- It's the time of year when stars of stage and screen get recognized for their excellence in acting, so let's also give our attention to the new award-winning plants for gardens.

All America Selections' mission is to "promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America."

Seed companies introduce great "new" varieties of vegetables and flowers each year. All America Selections (AAS) tests these new varieties in gardens around the U.S. and Canada to find the best of the best.

One of the 2012 AAS winners is a small yellow watermelon called Faerie with a creamy yellow thinly striped rind and sweet, crisp pink-red flesh. This diminutive (for a watermelon) variety is a prolific producer even though the vines only grow to 5 feet long, taking up less space than most watermelon plants.

The fruit is about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and weigh in at 4 to 6 pounds, a good "family size" watermelon. Fruit is ready to harvest about 72 days after planting from seed.

Also getting the nod from AAS in 2012 is a chili pepper called Cayennetta that is an easy-to-grow mild tasting chili pepper. The plant is upright and well branched, producing heavy yields of three- to four-inch long peppers. It's unique because it has good cold and heat tolerance, as well as dense foliage that protects the fruit from sunburn.

On the ornamental side, AAS selected Summer Jewel Pink as their 2012 Bedding Plant Award Winner. This annual salvia is compact and upright, growing to a height of 10 to 24 inches. The pink flower spikes start two weeks earlier than other annual pink salvias used in the garden, such as "Coral Nymph." Its prolific blooms are attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

Just like the Golden Globe Awards, which are voted upon by the Hollywood foreign press, the Fleuroselect organization represents the international ornamental plants industry, which tests and promotes new flower varieties. Their test gardens are spread across Europe. Fleuroselect awards Gold Medals to "innovative varieties that clearly surpass the limits in breeding and beauty." The medal symbolizes excellence in breeding.

Receiving Gold Medal honors from Fleuroselect in 2012 is an annual flowering hollyhock, Spring Celebrities Crimson. While many gardeners would like hollyhock in their gardens, their tall stature and biennial bloom (flowering the second year of growth) are drawbacks. Spring Celebrities Crimson is a unique hollyhock with a bushy, dwarf habit that produces sturdy stems and plenty of double large crimson blooms.

The plants grow only to a height of 24 inches and a spread of 10 inches. They can be grown in the garden, as well as in containers, and bloom from late spring until frost. With its pretty crimson double hollyhock blooms, it should be on every WSU Cougar's garden shopping list! Go Cougs!

Also receiving a Fleuroselect Gold Medal is Cheyenne Spirit, a mix of perennial coneflowers that flower from seed the first year. The individual plants are strongly branched and produce abundant flowers in vivid orange, yellow, scarlet, red and rosy-red, purple or cream flowers. Their Gold Medal honor also went to Astello Indigo, a hybrid agastache with strong bushy 20-inch-tall plants. The beautiful upright flower spikes have fragrant, deep indigo-blue flowers that attract butterflies and honeybees.

The award season may be almost over, but the gardening season is yet to come.

You can find seed for most of these plants from Park Seed company at parkseed.com.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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