Award-winning plants for your yard

How the 2009 All-America Award winners performed.

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One of the perks -- and joys -- of being a garden writer is that often I have the opportunity to grow plants the year before they are introduced. That way I can recommend them -- or not -- from personal experience.

I have quite a list of new plants I tried last year. I'll start with those that have been named 2009 All-America Selections (AAS) award winners, then -- in coming weeks -- will go on to roses, shrubs, and numerous perennials.

Don't worry, I'll try to keep it brief (but useful).

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One flower and three veggies won AAS awards for 2009. My experience is that all are worthy of a place in your yard.

Rain Blue and Purple viola is a Johnny-jump-up with flowers that change color as they open and mature -- from purple and white to purple and blue. I realize that this is considered a desirable trait, but it's not one I appreciate, I'm afraid.

The same is true of roses that change color as they open. To me, the plant always looks a bit messy with blooms of different colors. But that's a personal prejudice.

Rain Blue and Purple is supposed to be cold- and heat-tolerant, but since Boston's summer didn't get anywhere near steamy last year, I tested only the first part of that. The plant came through with flying colors. It grew well and looked appealing in containers, since it naturally draped over the edges of the pots.

Lambkin melon was quite exotic, bred in Taiwan. As is true with most melons, you need space for the vines, but this Christmas melon is early, needing only 65 to 75 days to harvest, a big advantage for those in cool climates.

Honey Bear squash, a cute little acorn type -- dark green and weighing about a pound each -- was a big hit at my house. It grows on a bush, but does take up quite a bit of room. My plants averaged almost five feet across and yielded between four and five squash per plant.)They were a nice size for two people and didn't take forever to bake.

Eggplant can be an iffy crop in cooler climates, but Gretel was a standout, performing well as long as temperatures were above 55 degrees F. day and night. These tiny white eggplants could be harvested  quickly, too -- mine took about 56 days till I started picking them.

Admittedly, these are three- to four-inch fruits, not what everyone expects in an eggplant. But they were never bitter, a welcome quality. I learned to stuff and quickly bake the little fruits -- they make great individual servings and appetizers.

Read all the details -- including mature size, recommended spacing, days ot harvest and so forth -- at the AAS site.

You may also want to read how the winners are tested around North America and how they're chosen.

(Note: We invite you to visit the main page of the Monitor’s gardening site , where you can find many articles, essays, and blog posts on various garden topics.)

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