So welcome, sweet springtime – Award-winning plants and vegetables to add to your own garden |

So welcome, sweet springtime – Award-winning plants and vegetables to add to your own garden

Can you think of any garden annual that says “springtime” more eloquently or with more wonderful fragrance than the sweet pea?

You won’t find much argument at the National Garden Bureau, which has named 2005 “The Year of the Sweet Pea.”

“The ruffled blooms look like little butterflies all aflutter,” says the Garden Bureau press release celebrating National Garden Week, which ends today. Noting that sweet peas offer one of the widest color ranges in the plant kingdom, the release goes on to say, “Put it all together, fragrance and color, in a climbing plant with voluptuous clusters of flowers and it becomes obvious why sweet peas are such a favorite among gardeners and non-gardeners alike.”

Where they originated is a mystery, but they were first described in 1695 by a Franciscan monk in Sicily, then failed to attract much attention until the end of the 19th century when English hybridizer Henry Eckford introduced the grandifloras. Some 23 of those varieties, including “Jewels of Albion,” “Red Rover” and “Queen of Hearts,” are still in commerce. Easily grown from seed or transplants (we see them growing wild along Highway 49, intertwined with bright yellow Scotch broom), they make wonderful cut flowers.

If that promise of springtime beauty doesn’t stimulate your gardening glands, perhaps the naming of the 2005 “All America Selections Flower & Vegetable Award Winners” will:

• Gaillardia aristata “Arizona Sun” is an annual which bears 3-inch, single daisy-style flowers in mahogany red with bright yellow edges and reaches a height of 8 to 10 inches in full sun. Butterflies like them, too.

• Vinca “First Kiss Blueberry” has large 2-inch single violet-blue blossoms with a dark eye. They reach nearly a foot tall, spread to 16 inches, and are ideal for container gardening.

• Zinnia F1 “Magellan Coral” boasts of having 5-6 inch fully double dahlia-flowered blooms, with quality and color “superior to other Zinnia elegans” according to the AAS. And they love full sun.

• The three vegetable award winners are the miniature Eggplant F1 “Fairy Tale,” Tomato F1 “Sugary” whose half-ounce dark pink fruits contain a high sugar content and Winter Squash F1 “Bonbon,” whose improved traits of restricted habit, earliness and superior eating qualities impressed the AAS judges.

All of these plants were grown in test plots around the nation alongside comparable plants already in commerce, and they demonstrated superior performance.

For daylily fanciers, the All-American Daylily Selection Council has added the names of two winners for 2005: “Red Volunteer” is a striking crimson in the exhibition category and “Miss Mary Mary” is a petite gold that surpassed others in the landscape category.

These two plants join a select group of just 10 cultivars that have been awarded the coveted All-American title since the AADSC test program began in 1985.

The Perennial Plant Association has also declared the Lenten rose, Helleborus x hybridus, as its 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year.

This evergreen spring-blooming member of the buttercup family typically forms clumps from 18 to 24 inches tall and up to 30 inches wide, with 50 or more flowers per plant, lasting up to two months in late winter and early spring. Colors range from pure white to plum, nearly black in singles, doubles and even picotee forms.

After blossoming, their interesting leaves look like coarse leathery umbrellas and add interest to borders. They do best in partial to full shade.

OK, one last thing, just for fun: You say your kids won’t eat cauliflower? Would they at least taste it if it were orange? This year’s Cooks Garden catalog ( or call 800-457-9703) offers the new orange cauliflower that has a yellow-orange hue and “a mild, nutty flavor.”

C’mon kids, try it!


Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, a trained master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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