All-America Selections (AAS) has picked the best of the crop of new fruit, vegetables and herbs for 2017. Fennel ‘Antares’, Okra ‘Candle Fire’, Pepper ‘Mad Hatter’, and Tomato ‘Patio Choice Yellow’ are this year’s national winners.
Why should you care what All-America Selections has to say? Expert, independent judges representing this unbiased trialing organization visit more than 60 trial gardens across the country looking for the best new varieties with significantly improved qualities such as earliness to bloom or harvest, disease or pest tolerance, novel colors or flavors, novel flower forms, total yield, the length of flowering or harvest and overall performance. Only the very best are named AAS National Winners.
Fennel ‘Antares’ is the first fennel ever trialed and named an AAS Winner. It is slower to bolt, has a more uniform growth habit, and improved flavor – certainly an enticement for folks who enjoy fennel’s licorice taste. I grow fennel in my containers for swallowtail caterpillars and other pollinators. Last summer I was able to share the journey of caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly with my grandsons on a fennel plant. Its soft, fern-like texture also adds an ornamental quality to container designs.
I haven’t grown okra for several years, so I was happy to be reminded of the ornamental qualities of okra. Okra ‘Candle Fire’ was judged to have superior productivity, taste and tenderness – great for those who want to eat it. I plan to grow this variety for the beauty of its soft yellow flowers with burgundy throats and bright red, four to five-inch pods on 24-inch plants. A true ornamental edible, Okra ‘Candle Fire’ is beautiful growing in vegetable gardens, containers and flower borders.
Fun, funky, unique, distinctive…all words that could be used to describe Pepper ‘Mad Hatter’. Judges gave it high scores for its growth rate, early and large yield, and rich, citrus flavor. I think what makes it really special is its oh-so-cute shape – squatty and three sided. Pepper ‘Mad Hatter’ is delicious eaten green or when it has matured to red. Give this plant plenty of room. It grows big – up to four feet tall and wide – and will require staking.
I can’t remember a year when a tomato plant wasn’t among the winners and this year’s choice, Tomato ‘Patio Choice Yellow’, will be tempting to gardeners who grow veggies in containers. This compact, determinate, cascading plant grows yellow cherry tomatoes ideal for salads or just popping in your mouth right in the garden.
I love watermelon and can’t wait to try Watermelon ‘Mini Love’. Awarded the coveted AAS prize for its sweet, crisp, and juicy flesh and strong rinds resistant to cracks and splits, its short three to four-foot vines produce up to six watermelons per plant. I am planning to grow Watermelon ‘Mini Love’ in a pot on my deck and can’t wait to take a refreshing bite on a hot summer day.
We gardeners are lucky to have an organization like All-America Selections to guide us as we devour seed catalogs in winter and the vegetable benches at our favorite garden centers in spring. Enjoy your garden planning and get ready to garden with me!