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All-American Selections: 'Project Runway' for flowers

August 31, 2009 |  9:11 am


Thanks to All-American Selections, a nonprofit plant-evaluation organization, four fashionable new blooms will be introduced next spring, just in time to dress up your flowerbeds and borders. For 2010, judges selected varieties of (shown above, from left) zinnia, viola, snapdragon and gaillardia for their appearance and performance in growing trials across North America, including at California locations.

Seed companies breed garden plants to have new colors, different sizes, better disease resistance or longer flowering time, according to Heather Kibble, regional sales manager for Seminis Gardens in Oxnard and an All-American director.

“To be an All-American Selections winner, a plant has to be new and outstanding and distinctly different from what has been in the market before,” she says. Up-and-coming cultivars are watched by the gardening industry as closely as fashionistas follow the runways. “Plants are a lot like fashion, actually,” Kibble says. “The breeder is like the designer who knows what people want before they want it.”

Winning plants often show up in seed catalogs in early spring. Local specialty nurseries will carry the plants soon thereafter. Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar, Mission Hills Nursery in San Diego and ShopUrbanGarden.com will carry All-American Selections, and the organization maintains a plant locator on its website. This year's picks:

Zinnia marylandica ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’: The unusual rose- and white-colored zinnia is also heat and drought tolerant. It grows 12 to 14 inches tall and is great for window boxes and container gardens.

Viola cornuta ‘Endurio Sky Blue Martien’: This spreading and mounding viola looks delicate but is tough. It flowers throughout the winter in mild climates like Southern California's. The plants grow 6 inches tall by 10 inches wide and are covered with sky blue flowers.

Antirrhinum majus ‘Twinny Peach’: The snapdragon produces double butterfly-shaped flowers with a watercolor blend of peach, yellow and light orange colors on one 12-inch-tall plant. Like all snapdragons, it can grow in full sun and has good heat tolerance.

Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’: The blanket flower plant is covered in 3-inch daisy-like flowers and globe-shaped seed heads. It blooms through summer and reaches a mature height of 20 to 22 inches in a full-sun garden location.

-- Debra Prinzing 

Photo credit: All-American Selections