University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Every year dozens of promising new flower varieties are trialed at test sites throughout the country, including the University of Vermont, as part of the quest to find varieties worthy of the All-America Selections (AAS) winner title. Independent judges select flower varieties that score highest for bloom time, pest and disease-resistance, fragrance, interesting form, and other unique characteristics.

This year ten flowers made the cut, including Ornamental Millet 'Purple Majesty,' which received the AAS Gold Medal.  This top honor, awarded only rarely by the judges, recognizes breeding breakthroughs.

Other 2003 AAS flower winners include Agastache 'Golden Jubilee,' Carnation 'Can Can Scarlet,' Petunia 'Blue Wave,' Petunia 'Merlin Blue Morn,' and Rudbeckia Hirta 'Prairie Sun.'
AAS bedding plant award winners are Dianthus 'Corona Cherry Magic,' Eustoma 'Forever White,' Gaillardia 'Sundance Bicolor,' and Vinca 'Jaio Dark Red.'

Ornamental Millet 'Purple Majesty,' so named for its attractive purple leaf blades and shiny purple spikes (when the seed matures), is the first ornamental millet.  While an interesting addition to any garden, it also is a favorite food source for many birds.  Plants reach heights of three to five feet with 10 to 12-inch long spikes.

This variety, also known as pennisetum, needs the sun, both for healthy growth and to induce the leaves to develop their lovely purple color.  Plant two feet apart, waiting until the soil is warm before planting in the spring. ' Purple Majesty' also works well as a container plant.

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' is an aromatic herb with golden foliage on top and lime green lower leaves.  It earned the AAS distinction for being easy to grow--it thrives in full sun or partial shade, requires no pruning or pinching back, and is essentially pest-free.  The serrated leaves give off a strong mint aroma when crushed and can be used for flavoring or tea.

The common name is anise hyssop.  It can be grown in large patio or deck containers or in gardens, spaced eight to 12 inches apart.  Plants grow 15 to 20 inches high with three-inch lavender-blue spikes that attract bees.  'Golden Jubilee' commemorates the 50-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

If you are looking for a fragrant flower for your garden, Carnation 'Can Can Scarlet' may be the answer.  It makes an excellent cut flower with its brilliant scarlet, double, two-inch blossoms; gray-green foliage; and spicy scent.  It's a prolific bloomer, even in a hot and humid summer.

It prefers full sun and can be grown either as a container plant or in a flowerbed.  Plant height is 14 to 16 inches.  Space plants 10 to 12 inches apart.  Because plants take 120 days to flower, in northern climates potted plants, which should be available at garden centers starting in spring 2003, are your best bet.

Two petunias were named AAS winners this year.  'Petunia 'Blue Wave' is a cascading variety with velvety purple two-inch blooms that is ideal for hanging baskets or as a spreading ground cover, such as on a slope or hill.   It is easy to grow, requiring no pinching or pruning though it will benefit from application of a slow-release fertilizer at planting and mid-season to promote blooming.  In gardens, space plants one to two feet apart.

In full sun, Petunia 'Merlin Blue Morn,' will bloom prolifically throughout the summer.  It is being billed as a patriotic flower as its unique coloring--a solid white center with velvety blue around the edges--makes it the perfect addition to a bed or hanging basket of red flowers.  Like 'Blue Wave' it is a cascading variety suitable for both beds and containers.  Plants should be spaced about a foot apart.

Rudbeckia Hirta 'Prairie Sun' was selected as an AAS winner for its unique coloration--a light green center surrounded by golden petals tipped with primrose yellow.  It is the only rudbeckia or black-eyed Susan with this combination of colors.  Mature plants are about three feet high with five-inch blooms on strong branching stems.

'Prairie Sun' does best in full sun and although an annual, in warmer climates it may overwinter and bloom again the following year.  It makes a good cut flower and will do well in containers.  If planting in a flowerbed or garden, allow 15 to 20 inches between plants.  Flowering occurs in 105 days.

Magic aptly describes Dianthus 'Corona Cherry Magic,' one of the four bedding plants named 2003 AAS award winners because its blooms can be cherry red, lavender, or a mosaic of both colors.  Like many of this year's winners, it requires little work to grow and is not fussy about growing conditions.  It tolerates a range of temperatures though does prefer full sun.

Flowers are single, two to three-inch blooms.  Plants are short, growing only seven to nine inches tall. 'Corona Cherry Magic' can be grown fairly close together and will begin flowering about 10 to 12 weeks after seeds are sown.  It also makes an excellent window box or container plant.

Plant breeders created Eustoma 'Forever White,' the first white flowering Eustoma for home gardens, from Eustoma grandiflorum, a native wildflower found in Colorado, Texas, and Nebraska.  It likes full sun and will thrive on heat, so don't rush to get it in the ground in the spring.  Wait until the soil has warmed before transplanting.  It also adapts well to container planting.

Flowers are ivory or white, cup-shaped, and about two and one-half inches in diameter.  Plants grow a foot high and should be spaced from six to eight inches apart.

Gaillardia 'Sundance Bicolor,' which looks like a wildflower, is a good choice for a native plant garden. A sunny spot is best.  Both heat and drought-tolerant, this variety needs little attention once established and does not need to be watered unless the summer is dry.

It has a spreading, mound growth habit and a most unusual mahogany red and yellow bicolor flower.  Blooms are double and globe-shaped.  The foot-tall plants also are suitable for baskets and containers.

The final AAS winner is Vinca 'Jaio Dark Red.'  Described by the judges as "the best red yet in vinca," it has rich crimson red, two and one-half inch blossoms with round petals and white centers.  The foliage is glossy green.  Expect blossoms in about 70 days.

This vinca requires little water and prefers warm soil and growing conditions.   Plant 12 to 15 inches apart when soil warms up in the spring in a location that gets full sun.  Plants grow 15 inches high and may spread up to 15 to 20 inches wide.  Unlike most other vincas, deer and insects are not attracted to this plant.

In addition to these ten flowers, two vegetables, Melon 'Angel' and Summer Squash 'Papaya Pear,' also were selected as 2003 AAS winners.  To learn more about these varieties and past winners, or to view photos of the winners, log onto

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