Every year the wise judges for the All-America Selections folks come up with some winners that aim to delight the eye with flowers and the dinner table with vegetables. These are “new” varieties, supposed to be far ahead of the current offerings available, varieties that have undergone rigorous scrutiny from the judges and the test of climate from the East Coast to the West Coast.
And often they do come up with winners that can make every gardener drool a bit, but, sad to say, not all of them are bright stars for southern California.
Which flowers to try?
This year there were seven award winners: Salvia 'Summer Jewel Red,' Ornamental Kale Glamour Red, Viola Shangri-La Marina, and Gaillardia Arizona Apricot, for flowers. Three vegetables won, Pumpkin Hijinks, Tomato Lizzano, and Tomato Terrenzo.
The salvia is a coccinea type, a kind that grows wild in many areas of California, including coastal regions from Ventura to Monterey. Summer Jewel Red may be worth trying, but remember that the coccinea types are tall, though Summer Jewel Red is supposed to be a better dwarf.
The viola is worth trying come late fall, but it’s not spectacular. What may be spectacular is the Glamour Red Kale, when planted for winter color.
Best for our summer gardens is the gaillardia. Arizona Apricot is part of a series of new gaillardias, and gaillardias do well in our hot summers inland, manage well even in beach gardens if protected from stiff ocean breezes, and will grow well in the desert and the mountains.
Vegetable award winners
All three veggies are worth trying, with the pumpkin providing six- to seven-pound fruits in a deep orange. The tomatoes are both cherry kinds, always easy to grow here and prolific.
It’s a little early to start any of these from seed unless you have a greenhouse or can provide some other protection, but good nurseries and garden centers should have them as started plants this spring and early summer.
Gerald Burke is a freelance horticultural writer who will be blogging regularly at Diggin' It about gardening in southern California. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association