More than a decade ago, the dwarfing gene was discovered. This horticultural breakthrough - which could turn a long, trailing cucumber vine into a stubby little thing with-out sacrificing too much production - prompted the speedy development of several ``small garden'' varieties, as they were called. And now, after a lapse of several years, still another one has come along that promises to be better than all its predecessors.
Cucumber Salad Bush has been made an All America Selections choice for 1988, and is one of eight new flower and vegetable varieties to make it onto the year's honors list.
To become an All America Selections choice, a new variety must be more productive than, more disease resistant than, or essentially different in one way or another from anything already on the market. Each year hundreds of varieties are entered, but few, as they say, are chosen.
Apart from its vigor and compact form, Cucumber Salad Bush attracted judges by its early maturity - from seed to mature fruit (1 by 8 inches) in just 58 days, given good growing conditions.
It comes highly recommended for flavor, too, and its growing space requirement (just two square feet) means it can turn any sunny nook or corner into a productive piece of garden. It also does well in containers.
The pepper family has done itself proud this year by having two varieties named to the list - Super Chili, with more bite that the famous Jalapeno, and Mexi-Bel, a bell-shaped pepper that looks sweet but has a pungent flavor similar to that of Anaheim.
Honey 'n Pearl is bicolored sweet corn with elevated sugar levels, so that it remains sweet in the refrigerator for several days. Apparently ``exceptional flavor,'' a uniform comment from all judges, won the honor for Honey 'n Pearl, since lasting sweetness is no longer unique.
The new okra, Burgundy, combines ``excellent ornamental qualities (its unique color)'' with good eating and productivity. Its earliness - 60 days from seed to harvest - makes this Southern staple a suitable crop for Northern gardeners as well.
A shasta daisy, Snow Lady, was recognized as a ``breeding accomplishment'' for combining earliness and season-long flowering on a dwarf plant - 2-inch-diameter flowers on 10-inch stems.
Ultra Crimson Star petunia bears crimson flowers with a white cross on 15-inch-tall plants that spread to 18 inches. Judges found it a ``summer-long producer'' of good-quality flowers.
The celosia New Look bears brilliant scarlet plumes on 10- to 14-inch plants. It tolerates heat and humidity well and came unscathed through deluges that dumped 15 inches of rain on Chicago last August.