The All-America Selections Display Garden has been part of the Horticulture program at the University of Saskatchewan for more than 15 years.
The location of the garden has changed over the years, from a shady area at the edge of an arboretum to a sunny area that lacked a lot of public traffic and finally to its current location, which is a beautiful, sunny area with significant daily foot traffic: the main south entrance to the College of Agriculture and Bioresources building on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
The first shipment of seeds in the fall is always exciting as we get to see what new flower and vegetable varieties are being sent out this year! Are some of the old favorites included in this year’s package?
Soon after they arrive, seeds are sorted according to their seeding date. Apart from a few of the vegetables, most of the selections are started as transplants in the greenhouse. The earliest that seeding has occurred in the greenhouse is January: Cheyenne Spirit and PowWow™ Wildberry echinacea seeds. Starting the seeds this early allowed the seedlings to experience a month of cold treatment in our 4°C coolers in hopes of promoting better flowering during the growing season. Depending on what is being grown that year, we may start as early as January and continue seeding our transplants in the greenhouse until the end of April.
The All-America Selections transplants are seeded by hand and started in our agriculture research greenhouse. Built in 1992, this glass greenhouse has artificial lights (HPS) and day/night temperatures of 22°C/18°C. We hand seed into 50 cell trays and place the trays in a mist chamber with bottom heating. As soon as some seedlings germinate, the trays are moved out onto regular greenhouse benches where they are watered by hand. A weekly application of soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer with micronutrients is applied in the greenhouse.
About one week prior to planting out, the greenhouse transplants are set outdoors in a shady, protected location to harden them off before transplanting outdoors. Transplanting, direct seeding, weeding, and watering are done by our Horticulture Field crew. This crew consists of an undergraduate university student, a seasonal full-time field technician and the field manager.
In Saskatoon, the average date of the last spring frost (latitude 52.9°N) is May 21st, but that can vary in either direction by several weeks. To avoid any chance of frost, we usually wait until the last week in May or the first week in June to transplant our All-America Selections plants outdoors. Any direct seeded vegetables are seeded about 10 days before that. Transplants are watered in with a 10-52-10 fertilizer.
Initially, the All-America Selection beds are watered about ½”/week and later in the growing season the beds receive 1” water/week. Saskatoon is in a Prairie climate which can be dry, so overhead irrigation is provided as necessary. The climate in Saskatoon can vary immensely from year to year. So far, the 2022 growing season has been a bit wetter and more cloudy than usual: the All-America Selections plants are later than usual. In 2021, the growing season was extremely hot and dry: the 2021 AAS garden would have been dead by mid-June if it were not for the overhead irrigation.
Like all gardeners, we have unusual weather variances to deal with.
The cold winters and warm, dry summers of Saskatoon are perfect for preventing many diseases or insect problems in plants. Brassica plants are the exception. Saskatchewan is an agricultural province with canola (Brassica napus) being one of the major crops in production. Because of the huge acreage of canola being grown, gardeners have a major problem with pests that attack brassica crops: flea beetles, imported cabbage worm (Pieris rapae) and root maggots. Any of the Asian greens, broccoli, kale, or cabbage that are grown in our AAS garden must be transplanted as flea beetles easily destroy the seedlings. As these crops mature, crop covers, or registered insecticides, are used to control the cabbage worm. Unfortunately, there are no insecticides available to home gardeners for root maggots: a certain percentage of our brassica plants are always lost to root maggots.
A common pest in Saskatchewan is the Richardson ground squirrel (Urocitellus richardsonii). Shortly after transplanting our All-America Selections, we discovered that marigolds, petunias, and peppers are a favorite food of this herbivore. Over one weekend, all the pepper plants were eaten off, most of the leaves of the marigolds disappeared and the petunias lost their flowers and newest leaves. Now that I know how much these pests can eat in a brief time, I will be more proactive next year in protecting our young AAS Winners!
In the past, the AAS vegetables were interplanted with the AAS flowers in the garden however, the flowers often crowded out the vegetables. The AAS garden is now divided into two separate areas: an AAS Flower garden and an AAS vegetable garden. Every year the flower garden, initially, is more popular than the vegetable garden. However, as soon as the vegetables ripen, they become the focus of attention and are harvested and eaten by passers-by. Not only do the AAS gardens provide suggestions of new varieties for gardeners to try, but also new crops for northern gardeners to grow. It is wonderful to hear “we can grow that here?!” in response to such vegetables as Antares fennel, Mad Hatter pepper or Candle Fire okra.
In 2020, our AAS garden did not get planted due to events caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic. In 2021 we planted a new AAS garden just outside the gate at our field research facility as access to university buildings was limited. The new garden was smaller than the previous AAS garden, but the location was ideal: along a city walking path and beautifying the entrance to our research facility. This year, the university buildings are open again, so the AAS garden has returned to its original location on campus. However, because of all the positive comments about the garden at the gate of our research facility, we decided that we would continue with a simple flower garden at this ‘new’ location.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has affected many people around the world, including me.
When I heard the story of a Ukrainian woman who confronted a Russian soldier and gave him sunflower seeds (Ukraine’s national flower) to put in his pocket so that they might grow when he dies, I was deeply moved by her courage. I recalled that there was a new AAS sunflower available this year: ‘Concert Bell,’ AAS Winner for 2022. To honor the courage of the Ukrainian people, I decided to plant sunflowers in the ‘new’ flower bed that we had created the previous year. I have included several AAS sunflower selections in the bed: Concert Bell, Soraya, Ring of Fire and Suntastic Yellow sunflower. In the center of the bed, I planted one of my favorite AAS petunias, Evening Scentsation for its blue color (and fragrance!) as blue and yellow are the colors of the Ukrainian flag. My hope is that the flowers in this second All-America Selection flower bed at the University of Saskatchewan reminds people to keep the people of Ukraine in their thoughts and prayers.
Having an All-America Display Garden has enabled the University of Saskatchewan to highlight some of the newest and best flower and vegetable varieties available to gardeners. The gardens provide educational information to experienced gardeners who want to try something new as well as new gardeners who may not have any idea what can be grown in our climate. Being an All-America Display Garden gives the public (including our provincial greenhouse growers association) a hands-on sneak peek at some varieties that are newly available to the public. Our colorful and nutritious AAS display gardens help us advertise our horticulture program at the University of Saskatchewan: catching the attention of would-be degree students, master gardeners, and certificate students. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to grow an All-America Selections Display Garden at the University of Saskatchewan.
By Jackie Bantle, Horticulture Operations Manager, University of Saskatchewan
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