Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals
by Barbara Pleasant
2000 All-American Selection 'Cosmic Orange' Cosmos
Because of variables such as erratic weather and fickle pests, growing a beautiful garden is always a bit of a gamble. Want to tip the odds in your favor? Choose plants that have performed so well they've won awards--and not from mere beauty pageants, either. Although different award programs, from the venerable All-America Selections to trials by horticultural societies, have varying rules and procedures, they share a common goal of helping gardeners find reliably high-performing plants.
The Smartest Seeds
If your gardening year starts with sowing seeds, the first list to look at is All-America Selections (AAS), a 68-year-old program that evaluates and promotes annual flowers and vegetables. AAS casts a big net to find the best of the best. Breeders enter their most promising varieties, which are test-grown at 47 trial locations across the United States and Canada.
Top contenders are judged on flower power and trouble tolerance, with extra credit for unique features or fragrance. Once the winners are picked, seed producers have a couple of years to accumulate enough seed to meet the expected demand. Then, a few months before the winning list goes public, AAS gives in to pleas from writers such as myself and lets us try out the next year's winners in our gardens. So my report of the winners is tempered with first-hand experience.
The 2000 AAS flower I like best is 'Melody Pink' dianthus, a 2-foot giant that stood up to last summer's heat and drought better than the most spirited zinnia. It has no fragrance but is a great upright flower for a sunny spot.
'Soraya ' sunflower
To appreciate the other flowers on this year's AAS list, think orange. Cosmos sulphureus 'Cosmic Orange' is much less rangy than others of the species, and it produces scads of blooms all summer if it gets a little water once in a while. Tithonia rotundifolia 'Fiesta Del Sol' takes the old-fashioned torch flower (also called Mexican sunflower) to new lows, topping out at a manageable 3 feet instead of 6. For a backdrop, look no further than 5- to 6-foot 'Soraya' sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a tangerine bloomer that brings a new hue to the sunflower patch.
Here's a hint for balancing all that orange: think blue as in floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum), butterfly bush, (Buddleia davidii), or mealy-cup sage (Salvia farinacea).