As spring approaches, garden center shelves are bursting with wonders begging you to take them home — whether you have space for them or not!
How to winnow your choices? At least for annuals and perennials — including vegetables, herbs and tender tropicals — there’s an easy answer. Each year All-American Selections (all-americaselections.org), a national independent trialing organization, tests brand-new varieties in anonymous trials in over 50 gardens across the country. In our region, there are trial gardens near Moses Lake, and several in Oregon and two in British Columbia.
Expert judges choose the best regional performers as well as the cream of the crop, the national winners.
All the plants included are bred and produced without any genetic engineering or modification, commonly known as GMO.
Judges hunt for significantly improved qualities such as “earliness to bloom or harvest, disease or pest tolerance, novel colors or flavors, novel flower forms, total yield, the length of flowering or harvest and overall performance.” An entry needs to have at least two significantly improved qualities to make the running.
Here are the 2023 winners, which will be largely available come spring, and some highlights from 2022’s introductions. The designation “F1” means its seeds will not produce the same plant next year. Most are winners nationwide unless noted as regional winners for the Northwest.
2023 winners to look for:
Coleus Premium Sun Coral Candy — annual. The first seed-grown coleus AAS winner, a compact stunner at only 16 inches with distinctive foliage in green, bronze and peach that holds color even in full sun and is slow to flower (a good thing).
Colocasia Royal Hawaiian Waikiki — annual. Swaths of pink, cream and green unfurl on massive tropical leaves with burgundy stems staying compact at 36 inches and holds up to blustery weather.
Echinacea Artisan Yellow Ombre F1 — perennial. Intense golden blooms in an ombre range on the same plant keep their color all season. Strong yellow echinacea varieties are rare, but the judges said this one is “consistently better” than comparable varieties. A regional winner for the Northwest.
Important for Seattle, where it can be a challenge to find echinaceas that survive our soggy winters, the website notes it was in a three-year overwintering trial.
Leucanthemum Carpet Angel — perennial. Looking for the perfect summer edging plant? A 6-inch-high groundcover Shasta daisy that blooms all season because it’s day length neutral. Reaching 20-inches wide, it’s covered in unique frilly-centered flowers. A judge said it survived “many challenges that proved too much for the comparison.” A regional winner for the Northwest.
Pepper jalapeno San Joaquin F1 — annual. This determinate jalapeno pepper sets up to 50 fruits per plant at once making harvesting for pickling, canning or stuffed peppers easy. With 2500-6000 Scovilles, relatively mild.
Salvia Blue by You — perennial. This meadow sage brings larger, intense blue-purple blooms two weeks earlier than most and keeps going through late summer with dead-heading. A pollinator magnet, unattractive to deer and rabbits. for an annual delight in your cutting, perennial or pollinator garden.
Snapdragon Double Shot Orange Bicolor f1 — annual. “Soft, dusky, romantic, yum!” said one judge. This snapdragon doubles down on flower power with larger, layered blossoms of sunset coral on windproof stems (even withstanding hurricane winds).
Squash kabocha Sweet Jade F1 — annual. A beautiful single-serving squash with two-tone green striping and “incredible” sweet flavor makes a gorgeous presentation alone, as a soup bowl, or used in stir-fries.
Watermelon Rubyfirm F1 — annual. This personal-sized, 6-inch watermelon was a regional winner for our West/Northwest region, promising two to three fruits per plant. Several judges extolled its good flavor, and one noted its resistance to powdery mildew.
2022 winners for the Northwest
‘Sunset Torch’ Tomato F1 — annual. Tangerine-stripes on this fruity-flavored golden saladette-type was early to flower and resistant to numerous tomato plagues, like verticillium and fusarium wilts. It’s beautiful too, covered in up to 300 2-inch orange-with-rose blush snackable fruits. “Durable plants set good yields of beautiful orange uniform fruit that hold well in the field,” commented one judge.
Zinnia Queeny Lemon Peach — annual. This lovely scabiosa-type zinnia, part of the series formerly known as Queen, now, for some reason “Queeny,” won for both upper coasts – the Northeast and Northwest. Easy-to-grow, great cut flower, shifts from lemon with a dark peach center to buff or pale coral on vigorous plants.
Nasturtium Tip Top Rose — annual. Clear cherry-rose blossoms are held up above the foliage for a dramatic display, unlike many nasturtium varieties. Like others, both the charming flowers and lily-pad shaped leaves are delicious, with a peppery pungency. Judges said Tip Top Rose stayed uniform and healthy all season unlike its comparisons in the trial.
While there are few sure things in gardening, thanks to whims of weather, hungry critters, and sleep-deprived gardeners, these varieties should get us close to it. So, now that you’ve got your shopping list — let’s get growing!