Let’s venture a guess that your mind is wandering toward what to plant in your 2019 garden. As you look through seed catalogs and websites, it’s natural to look for what’s new and what will grow best in the garden. We thought we would help take the guesswork out of “what to grow” by asking a few of our garden communicator friends which AAS Winner was their favorite to grow, and why!
“Mad Hatter Pepper was one of the easiest to grow pepper plants I have encountered. I purchased seeds and grew four plants in containers and three in the ground in my front border by the road. Both locations did well, producing large plants (at least two feet tall) with a very large yield. I had so many delicious peppers for recipes and snacking!”
“If you love to grow tomatoes then ‘Mountain Merit’ should be on the top of your list. This determinate, slicing tomato tastes absolutely delicious in sandwiches. My picnic baskets were full of some homemade BLT’s containing this flavorful variety! My plants all grew vigorously, staying compact, healthy and strong. Each 10 to 12-ounce uniform fruit is deep red in color with a firm texture. This tomato is extremely disease and crack resistant making it a beautiful and easy plant to grow for any level gardener.”
“Kale ‘Prizm’ is hands down the best kale I have grown or eaten! It is a reliable ornamental edible with great vigor, cold hardiness and a shocking tolerance of southern heat. I am so impressed with this variety that I include it in every presentation I give around the US. It is suitable for landscape masses or as a specimen in a container and thrives in vertical gardens and hanging baskets. If you are crazy for kale, you have to try ‘Prizm’!”
“I hardly have to think about it when asked ‘What’s your favorite AAS Winner?’ That’s not to say there aren’t many, but the tomato, ‘Midnight Snack’ combines all the best attributes of the designation – taste, ease of cultivation and beauty. Its season is long in my Zone 7a garden, and it gets a lot of attention from visitors – particularly if I’ve allowed it to climb up and over a pathway trellis. At 1-1 ½” the black-red fruits hang in trusses like miniature works of art and are perfect for salads and pasta. Heirloom taste and look – hybrid vigor. It’s going to take a lot to shift this guy out of first place in my veggie beds.”
“I’m digging way back into the distant past, but when the pea ’Sugar Snap’ won an AAS award in 1979, it totally changed my way of growing peas … and consuming them! Edible pod peas (snap peas, snow peas, etc.) are well known today, but who had ever heard of an edible pod pea back then? Then ’Sugar Snap’ came out and I tried it right away. And darned if it wasn’t true! You could just pop the pod, peas and all, into your mouth and munch away. Sweet, delicious and totally lacking that fibrous string! I haven’t shelled a pea since! Thanks, AAS!”
“This past summer, I grew more than a dozen varieties of tomatoes, from giant beefsteak to medium sized saladettes, pop-in-your-mouth cherries to thick-walled Romas, to fleshy grape tomatoes. Of all those different tomatoes, two made it onto my “always plant this” list, one of which was ‘Valentine’. My mouth waters just writing about this gorgeous little tomato; bright red, grape-shaped (my favorite for their dense flesh and versatility) and absolutely delicious. ‘Valentine’ was one of the first tomatoes to ripen in my California coastal garden, and it kept ripening right through Thanksgiving. It was so prolific that one week after I harvested yet another huge colander of Valentines, I decided to make tomato raisins. I washed and dried the tomatoes, tossed them with avocado oil, kosher salt, pressed garlic, and basil flowers. They went into the convection oven at 250 degrees overnight. The next morning, I was met with the most aromatic, garlicky, sweet, salty little delicious nuggets. I foolishly shared them with my husband and daughter – foolish in that they ended up eating most of them instead of me! Ummm… I can’t wait till spring!”
“As a year-round vegetable gardener, I’m always on the lookout for crops that thrive during the cool and cold months. Prizm kale, a 2016 All-America Selections winner is a standout for spring, autumn, and even winter with tender foliage that tastes as good at it looks! The plants are compact, growing about 15 inches tall with intensely curled leaves making it ideal for small spaces like cold frames and containers. But it’s also a good choice for vegetable beds, greenhouses, or as a low border in a flower garden. Definitely a winner in my garden!”
“I have been growing vegetables for over 25 years and love looking forward to the new AAS winners each year. Several years ago I planted ‘Sandy’ lettuce a 2015 AAS winner. It is now, by far, my favorite lettuce. It does well against heat and disease and that is always a plus but I love it for its taste and texture. Some leaf lettuces just don’t hold up to dressing. This one has a beautiful ruffled dark green leaf that is firm. It gives you a great crunch in your salads. It is slow to bolt in the heat and does really well in hard frosts. It doesn’t get bitter as quickly as other leaf lettuces in the summer. Did I mention it is versatile? I grow it close together as cut and come again lettuce and space it apart for full heads. It is a massive loose head of deliciousness when left to fully mature. And it grows quickly! I highly recommend this lettuce for your container and raised bed gardens.”
“Zinnias are staples in my raised beds and are a part of my seed order each year. The pollinators (hummingbirds, bees and butterflies) love them, and they make a really great cut flower for summer arrangements (if you don’t mind sacrificing a few from the garden). I have my favorites, but I like to try different varieties. I discovered a new favorite in 2018: The AAS Winner Zinnia Queeny Lime Orange. I love how each flower was a different colour. Some were peachy yellow with red centres, others were orange with a red-orange centre, and others were yellowy-lime with a deep yellow centre. They are a beautiful variety – I’ll definitely grow them again.”
“I grow a lot of AAS Winners in my garden every year, and picking my favorite one is almost like picking a favorite child. But one always stands out in my mind, and that’s the 1999 AAS Winner Juliet. Juliet is either a mini-Roma type or a large grape tomato depending on how you look at it. It’s prolific, disease-resistant, holds well on the vine, and the tomatoes never split or have blossom end rot. They grow in clusters of 1 to 2 ounce fruits that have a sweet, rich and full tomato taste with nice balance. They are great for fresh use on salads or in salsas and are also tasty when dehydrated or cooked up into sauces. For a real treat, slice them in half, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a 250°F oven for a couple of hours. I use the roasted Juliets on homemade pizza and added to pasta dishes. If I could only grow one tomato, it would be Juliet! That’s how much I love this tomato, and how versatile it is.”
“A few of my favorite AAS Winners…
Ornamental Pepper NuMex Easter – A cute little ornamental pepper that gets attention.
Pepper Orange Blaze F1 – I have limited space but choose this one again and again because one plant can provide plenty of peppers.
Tomato Candyland Red – A prolific cherry tomato (currant-type) with great flavor. I have described them like eating M&M size tomatoes that taste like pasta sauce.
Tomato Chef’s Choice Red – It takes a lot for a new tomato to impress me as I have limited space and it has to out-perform a long time favorite. This one went head to head with Big Daddy and I was very impressed with the amount and size of the tomatoes.
Zinnia Queeny Lime Orange – We grew this Zinnia for the first time in 2018 during a very humid and rainy year. Queeny Lime Orange held her head up high and what lovely, interesting flowers.
Canna South Pacific Orange – I am totally a fan of this seed grown Canna! This compact cutie was the perfect size by our water feature and bloomed all season long which added a tropical summer feel.”