Four winning flowers from All-America Selections

Erl Svendsen, Saskatchewan Perennial Society

Another year, another crop of winners. All-American Selections (AAS, www.all-americaselections.org), an independent non-profit organization, has been evaluating new introduction in test sites across North America since 1932. And many of winning selections have stood the test of time. My mother-in-law grew ‘Straight-8’ cucumbers, a winner from 1935 and always shared her delicious and bountiful yield from her backyard.

In my garden, two past winners have been outstanding: ‘Foxy’ foxglove (1967 winner, dwarf annual, a mixture of creamy white, mauve and pink flowers) and ‘Tropical Rose’ canna (1992 winner, dwarf tender perennial, flowers from seed in the first year).

This year’s floral AAS winners are:

• Coleus ‘Main Street Beale Street’

• Coneflower (Echinacea) Sombrero® Baja Burgundy

• Nasturtium ‘Tip Top Rose’

• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) ‘American Gold Rush’

There are 100s if not 1000s of coleus varieties, but ‘Main Street Beale Street’ is AAS’ first winning coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides). Upright and bushy (24-36 inches), this coleus has stunning deep red leaves that retain their colour even in full sun. It flowers late in the season with short spikes of small purple flowers – but since the leaves are the main attraction, simple pinch them out as they appear. It grows well in both sun and shade, sturdy enough to withstand rain and wind and tolerates heat. Ideal as a container plant, cuttings also make an excellent addition to fresh floral bouquets from your garden.

Sombrero® Baja Burgundy coneflower (Echinacea hybrida) sports long-lasting 3-inch burgundy-red flowers atop medium height, sturdy stems (18-20 inches). It is rated as hardy to zone 4 which in Saskatchewan means, plant it in a sheltered location and cover the soil with mulch. Plant it in full sun in well-drained soil; otherwise it tolerates a wide range of growing conditions: wind, heat, rain and frost.

A few additional features worth mentioning: drought tolerant once established, attracts pollinators like butterflies, and is great as a fresh or dried cut flower.

‘Tip Top Rose’ nasturtium (Tropaeolum minus), unlike it’s usually sprawling, gangly sisters, forms a relatively compact mound (14 x 18 inches) covered season-long in showy, warm bright-rose flowers that are held above the leaves. The flowers resist fading as they age but you will need to deadhead them to promote continuous flowering. Place it in full to part-sun in the garden, as low edging or as a trailer in containers. This variety tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions: drought, heat, cold, rain and wind.

Not only is this another pollinator-friendly plant, all parts are edible: the leaves and flowers are peppery and make a nice addition to salads; pickled seed pods (~3/8 inch diameter) can be substituted for capers.

‘American Gold Rush’ black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia x) can’t help but draw your eye with its profusion of bright golden-yellow, two-inch blooms with their name-sake black centres.

A compact selection (up to 24 inches tall), it flowers from mid-summer to frost. A perennial rated to USDA zone 4 (protected location, mulch), it tolerates both heat and drought. Choose a location in full sun with well-drained soil. Or grow it in a container to add height and drama to your deck or patio. In addition to being yet another pollinator-friendly plant, it can be used as a fresh or dried cut flower.

One of the judges declared this selection as, ‘one of the very best rudbeckias I’ve trialed and one of the very best perennials, too.’ High praise indeed.

Like all newly introduced plants, these four may be in short supply in 2020 but look for them in seed catalogues and at garden centres this spring anyway. In addition, take time this summer to visit the AAS demonstration garden on the North side of the Agriculture Building on the University of Saskatchewan’s campus in Saskatoon.

Erl gardens in Saskatoon and tweets about on occasion @ErlSv

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; saskperennial@hotmail.com ). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events. Boffins Garden by Rob Crosby – January 29th, 7:30PM, Emmanuel Anglican Church, 607 Dufferin @ 12th Street. Free and open to the public.