The All-America Selections Regional Awards ARE A BIG DEAL!
With March Madness behind us, regional awards have been on my mind. Regionals in sports tend to be the lead-up to the Big Dance, the big award, the major victory. It’s the ribbon before the trophy. It’s definitely a big deal, at least until the national conversation starts. I have a closet full of t-shirts and hats commemorating conference and division championships, and not nearly as many that represent National Championships or World Series title wins. Sports can color our views and we start to assume that a regional award isn’t such a big deal.
AAS Trial Gardens are all over!
AAS Trial Gardens are spread out all over the United States and Canada (see map above for locations), which means the entries experience a wide variety of climates, weather conditions, and growing experiences (hey, sometimes an irrigation line breaks and a trial might move into a drought tolerance study!). The judges of AAS give honest, unbiased feedback on the plants they grow throughout the trialing process; sometimes that leads to a National Winner award designation. Oftentimes, the scores can be very high in some regions and not high enough in others. That doesn’t mean those plants don’t deserve to be recognized for their superior garden performance. In fact, I’d argue they deserve a special spotlight. I live in Iowa and I’m always amused to talk with my peers from different regions–when I start to seed my vinca (Catheranthus roseus) entry, my friends in Florida are getting ready to pull theirs out from the display. When I am planting out tomato entries, my friends in Canada are just getting ready to transplant from the seeding tray on the mist bench! You may want to know how that affects our scores; in theory, we’re all judging these trials when they look best in our region, right? Surely everything looks good at some point in the growing season!
To name but a few…
Let’s look at some 2019 award winners that come from the same series. Marigold (Tagetes erecta) ‘Big Duck Gold’ won a national award. That means it’s pretty special–it performed well from Texas to Montana (two pretty different growing climates, right?!). ‘Big Duck Orange’ (above, left) is a regional winner in the Heartland and ‘Big Duck Yellow’ (above, right) won in four out of the six regions. If you’re living in my area and only looking at national winners, you’re going to miss out on two stunning marigolds that are perfect for displays and floral arrangements! I’ve been inspired looking at various images of marigold garlands for celebrations and everyday decorations and plan to grow extra of all three winners for a stunning display for our summer member and volunteer celebration.
If you think all marigolds are the same and one color is just as good as another, let’s look at everyone’s favorite veggie, tomatoes. 2019 regional winner ‘Mountain Rouge’ (above, left) won awards in half of the regions, including the Heartland and the Southeast. I was able to visit our trial garden site at Burden Museum and Botanical Gardens in Baton Rouge, LA last fall. My trials were experiencing rain and low 60s while in Louisiana, it was sunny and 90! Two very different sets of conditions, one great performer. In fact, I was able to harvest ripe tomatoes from ‘Mountain Rouge’ up until frost! I think a tomato that produces just as well during a cool Iowa fall as a hot southern one deserves recognition!
Sometimes seeing entries win a regional award brings relief and jealousy at the same time. In 2015, oregano (Origanum syriaca) ‘Cleopatra’ (above, right) won regional awards in the Northeast and West/Northwest regions. I really wanted to see this entry win, but this unique herb is native to the Middle East. You may understand why it was not happy during a hot, humid Iowa summer! When an entry doesn’t perform well, there is always a moment of panic for the judge; you worry that you’ll have to chalk poor evaluations up to the dreaded “HE” (or Human Error). Seeing the regions that gave this entry winning marks, it’s easy to see that natural growing conditions played a bigger part in performance than cultural issues. However, any time I see photos or read descriptions of the look and flavor of ‘Cleopatra,’ I can’t help but be envious of those in the regions where this is a happy, tasty addition to gardens and patios!
“Tested Nationally & Proven Locally”
When AAS says “Tested Nationally & Proven Locally,” we really mean it. One of my favorite gardening sayings is “the right plant for the right place.” You wouldn’t put a hosta in full sun, you wouldn’t put a cactus under your downspout, and you wouldn’t plant a petunia in Florida in July! The regional winner award is local proof that these plants will be winners in your garden for years to come. They might not be the right plants for your friends and family across the nation, but really, doesn’t that just give you bragging rights? Check out your region on the All-America Selections website, look up a couple of regional award winners and give them a try. I know you’ll be happy with the results–your local judges sure were!
Jessie Liebenguth has a BS in Horticulture from Iowa State University. Her experience includes working with annuals and evaluating trial materials at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. She has worked extensively trialing roses at Reiman Gardens, the botanic garden of Iowa State University. Their aim is to educate the public on new and exciting developments in the world of plant genetics by including new plants in their landscape design. Jessie has been a judge for All-America Selections since 2012. She is judge for the Ornamental Seed, Perennial and Edible trials and we forgive her when she has Winner envy!