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AAS Celebrates 75 Years of Superior Plants for Home Gardeners
All-America Selections chooses five 'classic' seed-grown plants from among all AAS winners to mark its Diamond Anniversary.
by Denise Cowie - 8/28/2007
It’s sprinkled through many of the garden catalogs that plunk into our mailboxes in January – the red, white and blue shield that designates plants that are All-America Selections Winners.
Even gardeners who aren’t too sure what All-America Selections is all about know that the little shield means this is an outstanding plant for home gardens – a flower or vegetable they can plant with every expectation that it will grow and do just what the catalog says it will do.
For 75 years, All-America Selections has been testing new cultivars of seed-grown flowers and vegetables in a network of trial gardens all over North America, to seek out new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance. Only a handful of plants each year earn that coveted shield.
Five plants earn ‘Classic’ status
To celebrate its Diamond Anniversary this year, All-America Selections has elevated five of those winners to a new level – All America Classics.
“These are AAS Winners that have stood the test of time,” says Nona Koivula, executive director of the Illinois-based organization. They are “survivors, known for improved traits.” And for the first time, AAS also talks about the plantsmen who introduced those winners, “providing insight into the world of breeding.”
The All America Classics include (see photos top to bottom at right) the fabulous ‘Wave Purple’ petunias, which had a huge impact on the popularity of annual flowers and led to renewed gardening interest in an entire genus; ‘Ultra Crimson Star’ petunias; ‘Big Beef’ tomatoes, which are still among the most popular red tomatoes in North America; ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ pansies; and ‘Ideal Violet’ dianthus.
How the seed trials began
It wasn’t always so easy to tell the good plants from the mediocre. Back in the 1920s and early ’30s, when the Garden Club movement was in its infancy, there was little reliable information available to help home gardeners decide which of the many new varieties to grow.
So in 1932, W. Ray Hastings – who was president of the Southern Seedsmen’s Association of Atlanta – proposed the concept of All-America Selections to help home gardeners learn which varieties really were improved. He suggested a network of trial grounds throughout North America where new, previously unsold varieties of flowers and vegetables would be grown in many different climate zones and assessed by skilled, impartial judges. He encouraged all seed companies to be part of these seed trials.
Only two types of awards are given
“AAS was founded in 1932 and the first AAS Winners were announced a year later, after the results were tabulated for the first trial,” the organization reports on its web site, www.all-americaselections.org. “AAS Winners have been introduced each year since 1933. In 1934, there were 30 AAS Award Winning new varieties introduced, a record number. There have not been that many AAS Winners introduced since 1934.”
In 1984, the AAS Board of Directors decided to simplify the award system. One AAS Award recognizes a flower or vegetable for significant achievements, proven to be superior to all others on the market. The other is the AAS Gold Medal award, which is reserved for a breeding breakthrough. Gold Medal Awards have been rare, given only once or twice a decade, the organization says.
You can see AAS plants at display gardens
All-America Selections will mark its 75th Anniversary at the end of September, at the Garden Writers Association annual national symposium in Oklahoma City. A tour of the Oklahoma State University Trial Grounds with AAS judges Julia Laughlin and Haldor Howard is part of the symposium’s agenda.
Although trial gardens are usually closed to the public, gardeners are welcome to visit AAS Display Gardens throughout the country. In this area, there are display gardens at the Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler, Longwood Gardens near Kennett Square, Meadowbrook Farm in Meadowbrook, and the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens in Newark, Del. For more information, visit www.all-americaselections.org.
Portraits of Five Classic Plants for Your Garden
Here are the AAS profiles of the Five All America Classics chosen by All-America Selections as the most notable of its award-winning plants:
Petunia F1 ‘Wave Purple’
Flower judges were awestruck when they saw petunia entry 92F17. Unlike all other petunias in 1992, this entry did not grow vertically but grew along the soil like an ivy ground cover. When a Judge picked up a stem, it had rooted into the ground. By August, the stems radiated in all directions, growing three to four feet and hugging the ground with a height of four to six inches.
The totally unique plant habit, obvious vigor, and continuous flowering were traits previously unseen. The flower color was debated. Was it rose, magenta or purple? Finally, in 1995, the petunia was introduced as an AAS Winner named ‘Wave® Purple.’
Daigaku Takeshita, a young flower breeder with Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., had an idea to breed a new petunia with traits that would be irresistible to home gardeners. He searched the globe for wild petunia species that were strong plants, easy to grow, free flowering and not susceptible to disease problems.
Crossing numerous petunia species, he selected offspring with superior garden qualities. During the crossing and selection phase of breeding, his number one priority was garden performance. After several years, he was asked to prove that his petunias were superior to others on the market.
With faith in his abilities, Takeshita entered into the AAS Trial. His petunia was recognized as an AAS Winner with genuine, credible new traits unavailable in any other petunia on the market. Takeshita was given the All-America Selections Breeders’ Cup Trophy because of the impact ‘Wave® Purple’ made on annual flowers, and the renewed gardening interest in the entire genus.
Petunia F1 ‘Ultra Crimson Star’
A stellar performance – pure white stars centered on huge crimson grandiflora flowers. ‘Ultra Crimson Star’ blazed a new path in 1988 as the first AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner.
This category tests annuals in the greenhouse and garden. It is a test resulting in two evaluations and scores which eliminate all but the very best entries with clearly superior traits. 'Ultra Crimson Star' passed this test with improved traits such as earliness and the consistent star pattern on flamboyant 3- to 4-inch blooms. Gardeners will find 'Ultra Crimson Star' plants flower freely all season with a minimum of care. Pinching or pruning plants is unnecessary.
This petunia was bred by Mathilde Holtrop of Goldsmith Seeds. Her breeding objective was a stable star pattern that would remain constant under stressful plant conditions such as high or low soil fertility.
Petunias are among the few annuals that have the genetic capability ofcreating a floral “star” design. Using traditional breeding techniques, Mathilde, or Tilly, selected parent lines that would result in large grandiflora flowers borne on compact branching plants in addition to her “star” pattern.
She met her breeding objective when ‘Ultra Crimson Star’ was introduced as an AAS Winner. With her mentor, Glenn Goldsmith, she discovered the gene that was responsible for the miniature ‘Fantasy’ petunia series, which resulted in another AAS Award for ‘Fantasy Pink Morn.’ Tilly was recognized for her lifetime of breeding achievements with the AAS Medallion of Honor in 1999.
Tomato F1 ‘Big Beef’
In 1994 gardeners wanted a large, beefsteak-type tomato, but one that was early and loaded with disease resistance so that even a neophyte could rely on harvesting big, red, tasty tomatoes. Their dreams came true with ‘Big Beef.’ This AAS Winner exhibited all of these desirable traits.
For over 12 years, ‘Big Beef’ has remained one of the most popular red tomatoes in North America. It is almost foolproof, and 8- to 12-ounce fruit can be harvested beginning about 73 days from transplanting into warm garden soil.
To say this tomato is easy to grow from seeds or plants is an understatement. The hybrid vigor is obvious from seedling size to vining plant. ‘Big Beef’ began a trend toward multiple disease resistances packed into plant genes using old-fashioned breeding techniques. ‘Big Beef’ is resistant to Verticillium, Fusarium Race 1 & 2, Stemphylium, Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Nematode, and Alternaria Stem Canker.
Colen Wyatt, at Seminis Vegetable Seeds, was one of the most successful home garden vegetable plant breeders in the last half of the 20th Century. He bred ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Husky Gold’ tomatoes, all very successful AAS Winners. In addition to tomatoes, he bred cucumbers, pumpkins, and winter squash. ‘Early Butternut’ Squash was a 1979 AAS Winner bred by Colen.
In 1998 AAS presented the prestigious Medallion of Honor to him for the abundance and superior quality of his vegetable introductions.
Pansy F1 ‘Majestic Giants Mix’
Originally introduced in 1966, ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ is a flower that has stood the test of time. The plants, which sprout large 4-inch blooms with the traditional pansy face, have been grown by four generations of gardeners whose gardens could be located in the North of the country or the South. What’s more, they could plant these pansies in the spring or the fall.
That’s because ’Majestic Giants Mix’ was the first pansy that did not require cool temperatures for flower initiation. Thus, in the southern states, seed could be sown in the summer and the fall flowers would occur naturally, without an artificial cool treatment. ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ opened the door for southern fall pansy plantings.
Although a small plant, only 6 to 8 inches tall, ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ enhanced its diminutive size with huge blooms. The plant breeder, Sukeo Miyazaki of Sakata Seed Corp., met his objectives by providing a plant with consistently large flowers, which was the most difficult objective to achieve.
Another objective was to create a hybrid plant. Before 1966, most pansies were not hybrids. Since the introduction of ‘Majestic Giants Mix,’ most pansies are hybrids with increased vigor and freedom of bloom. This hybrid vigor enabled ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ plants to thrive under diverse growing conditions. Adaptable to full sun or partial shade, ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ will perform in a garden or in a container.
Another desirable trait is evident in the vivid colors. This classic mix offers a wide range of colors from blue, scarlet, cherry red, yellow, and orange to pure white. ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ is an exceptionally long-lived pansy for spring and fall seasons.
Dianthus F1 ‘Ideal Violet’
For 15 years, this time-tested dianthus has held the attention of lovers of annuals because ‘Ideal Violet,’ originally introduced in 1992, can color 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, in the South of France, where winters are quite cold and summers are very hot. This was an “ideal” location to breed a new dianthus.
Guy Lassartesse bred ‘Ideal Violet’ while exploring inter-specific crosses between Dianthus chinensis (China pink) and Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William.) He combined the species, looking for earliness of bloom and continuous flowering while plants endured cold temperatures. As summer progressed, Lassartesse found plants that thrived in the sun-baked earth. These crosses he noted and saved. His observations and hybrid crosses resulted in the crème de la crème ‘Ideal Violet’ plants.
These petite plants will reach about 10 to 12 inches in height and branch about a foot wide. Unlike other annuals, ‘Ideal Violet’ tolerates a wide variation in seasonal temperatures. In southern climates, ‘Ideal Violet’ can color a fall and winter garden while withstanding considerable cold. In northern areas, ‘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 any container plantings.
This variety was the first dianthus to receive the AAS Bedding Plant Award and is offered by PanAmerican Seed Company.