The next best thing behind getting Christmas cards this time of year is getting the garden catalogs. A gardener will set aside everything else to read them cover to cover. Pages get dog-eared and lists are made of must haves. Never mind that there is only room for a third of the order list in the garden.
As always, catalog descriptions are always glowing and scream out that they are the answer to your garden dreams. But are they? There are literally hundreds of new or improved varieties put on the market every year. How do you know you are getting a reliable new variety? If you are a new gardener, the challenge can be even more daunting.
One of the last steps seed companies take when introducing new varieties is to plant the varieties in test or trial plots and then very carefully measure how they grow.
They note the number of days to maturity, disease resistance, response to drought and humidity and other traits. The varieties that get the highest marks are then offered to the seed catalogs we get in the mail.
The drawback of this system is the trial grounds are usually near the seed company’s headquarters. For those of us in the Inland Northwest this means we still don’t really know how well they will do in our short, hot, growing season.
The All-America Selections program evaluates varieties on a much more detailed scale.
Since 1932, this nonprofit, independent organization tests new, never-before-sold varieties for the home gardener. Using vegetable and flower seeds donated by seed-breeding companies, volunteer horticulture professionals trial them anonymously for a full season in test gardens all over the country.
The top garden performers are given the AAS Winner award designation for superior performance. Plants that performed well in trials all over the country are designated as national winners while plants that do well in a specific area are designated as regional winners.
The awards are made three times a year in November, January and July, and the number of winners varies from year to year. In 2020, 17 varieties of flower and vegetables received the award.
For 2021, awards went to Echalion Crème Brulee shallot, Sweet Daisy Birdy Shasta daisy, Profusion Bicolor zinnia, Goldilocks squash, Candela Pink celosia and Pot-a-peno pepper.
The Pot-a-peno pepper is sized to grow in a container or hanging basket and produces spicy jalapeno peppers earlier than other jalapenos grown in the garden.
Goldilocks squash is a yellow acorn squash that can produce 10 or more nutty flavored fruits per plant on compact vines 4 to 5 feet long, perfect for smaller spaces.
The Echalion Crème Brulee shallot is grown from seed and produces bulbs earlier than their bulb-grown cousins. This purple shallot is high in sugar which enhances its flavor when it is caramelized during cooking.
In the Spokane area, Pot-a-peno pepper will ripen in about 50 days for green and 65 days for red. Goldilocks squash takes 85 days. Echalion Crème Brulee needs to be started indoors and is harvested in late summer.