Just in time for spring planting, 10 exciting new vegetable and flowering seed varieties have been chosen as 2017 All-America Selections (AAS)! These represent the most adaptable and successful new varieties for home gardens across the continental US.

If you are new to gardening, AAS Winners are the sure-fire success choices you will want to start with. Each AAS winner has been extensively trialed in gardens in many different climates and conditions, so you know they aren’t going to collapse at the first heat wave or cold snap in your garden. The AAS began during the Depression, when times were very hard and most Americans still grew at least some of their own food. Not a penny could be wasted on a finicky plant, so an independent group formed to evaluate new seed varieties and make recommendations for home gardeners.

We love AAS varieties because they are grown from seed with no special treatment whatsoever — which means the first-time gardener is as likely to be successful with them as the seasoned pro! Let’s take a look at this exciting new crop of winners.

Fennel Antares Hybrid

Sometimes a variety wins the AAS because of one significant improvement, such as quicker maturity or resistance to a stubborn disease. Antares, however, demonstrates so many improvements in all areas that it might as well be a new species! It’s the first fennel ever to win AAS honors, and here is why:

  • sweeter bulb flavor

  • earlier maturity

  • stronger fragrance

  • lusher foliage

  • better bolt resistance

Whether you grow it for food or to attract vistiors such as swallowtail butterflies (who depend on fennel as a food source during their caterpillar stage), Antares is a fennel every gardener should try!

Pepper Sweetie Pie and Chili Pie Hybrids

This pair of baby bells has to be described together, even though you will probably want to grow them in separate areas of the garden (or widely spaced containers on the deck) to keep from confusing them! Sweetie Pie is a sweet bell, while Chili Pie is sweet when green, but becomes hot and spicy as it fully ripens to red.

Both varieties arise on very compact plants, just 2 to 3 feet high and wide. These bells aren’t the long, slender type you see in the supermarket — they are plump, thick-walled, flavorful minis, with all the crunch and juiciness of their full-sized cousins. Sweetie Pie can be picked green, yellow, gold, or fully ripe at red — the flavor will be identical at all stages. Chili Pie, on the other hand, acquires heat as it turns red.

Great in containers or the garden, these 2- to 3-ounce fruits arise generously, maturing about 2 months after transplant. Give them sunshine, heat, and water, and they will repay you with deliciousness!

Petunia Evening Scentsation Hybrid

Look out, Petunia Wave! Here’s a spreading variety with rich indigo blooms (by the thousand), each deliciously scented with notes of hyacinth, honey, and roses. The fragrance is noticeable at all times, but in the evening it really comes into its own, perfuming any outdoor space delectably all night long!

Just 5 to 8 inches high but ready to trail 3 feet long, Evening Scentsation is also suitable for garden beds. You can mound up the foliage and create a lush, low-growing display that will turn the walk from the driveway to the front door into a scented paradise. And of course, no Petunia is more alluring for windowboxes, where the fragrance can escape into the house on warm summer nights!

We predict that Evening Scentsation is going to be a blockbuster, so order this multiflora now!

Pole Bean Seychelles Hybrid

And while you’re planning your container garden, consider this climbing bean. We know, it seems crazy, but Seychelles is actually suitable for large flowerpots and planters! In the garden it climbs up to 9 feet high, in containers it may be more restrained, but either way, it finishes fast and even produces multiple crops if the beans are picked promptly!

Straight, stringless, tender, and flavorful, these pods are best harvested at just 5 to 6 inches long, when they are at their succulent best. Their shape makes them perfect for canning, but they may never make it to the jar — Seychelles has that rich, true bean flavor you just can’t find in store-bought crops, and you may just gobble it all down fresh off the vine!

Tomato Midnight Snack Hybrid

An indigo cherry tomato with incredible yields, Midnight Snack packs a huge wallop of antioxidant power into just half an ounce!

This indeterminate cherry tomato plant is a huge, sprawling, over-the-top nonstop producer all season, the one you can always count on for a handful of fresh tomatoes when everything else in the garden has been picked. Try to wait until the little round globes turn purple, however — the darker they get, the more anthocyanins (the disease fighter) they’re packing for your good health.

Penstemon Twizzle Purple

The Twizzle series is just knocking other Beard-tongues dead with its amazing performance! Last year’s Scarlet won the Fleuroselect (the European equivalent of the AAS), and now Purple has swept both the Fleuroselect and the All-America Selection! Here’s why this native American perennial is so impressive:

  • Purple is entirely new color for the family, a rich shade of lilac-violet that has never been seen before, and is absolutely gorgeous.

  • Both Twizzles flower the first year from seed, unlike older varieties of Penstemon.

  • The plant has about twice the blooms and half the foliage of the species, for a much more beautiful display of color.

  • A valuable nectar source for many pollinators, Twizzle brings in butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

  • Twizzle is open-pollinated, so you can save seeds or let the plants self-sow in your garden.

  • As a native perennial, it’s vigorous and disease resistant, with good tolerance of drought and poor soil.

Give it sunshine, good soil drainage, and a bit of pampering the first year to help it find its feet. Then let Twizzle colonize your sunny border, bare slopes, and garden trouble spots.

Pepper Aji Rico Hybrid

The South American species Capsicum baccatum is really coming into its own lately. Several months ago Mad Hatter Hybrid won an All-America Selection, and now we have Aji Rico Hybrid, bringing big yields into short-season gardens!

This compact plant is great for containers, growing like a weed and maturing its crop in just 55 days for green fruit and 75 for red. Even when green, these peppers are fully flavored, with a mildly hot bite and pleasant citrus overtones. Great for salsas and sauces, Aji Rico can be made hotter by leaving its seeds intact, milder by removing them before cooking!

And although the plant is smaller than many other peppers, it uses its space well. Expect up to 75 peppers from a single plant! These 1.5-ounce fruits reach about 3 to 4 inches long at maturity, with a strong peppery aroma to match their intense flavor. Give this one a try — you will be pleasantly surprised by its speed, yields, and taste!

Spaghetti Squash Sugaretti Hybrid

Well, the name gives it away — this hard-shelled squash is packed with delectably sweet “noodles” that can be used as a pasta substitute or simply steamed, salted, and peppered for deliciously rich eating.

Resembling delicata squash, these striped fruits reach 10 inches long. They finish about a week sooner than others, bringing a bigger harvest to northern and short-season gardens. And the plant spreads only about 2 feet wide, so you can grow the same amount of squash in less space!

The hard shell really sets Sugaretti apart, for you can store this spaghetti squash far longer than others. Extend your season, save space, and harvest big crops every time with this award winner!

Tomato Patio Choice Yellow Hybrid

There has never been a cherry tomato ready as quickly as this container variety! Just 45 days from transplant, this compact plant will be covered in sunny yellow globes, each weighing just half an ounce. Despite the small fruit size, the flavor is rich, juicy, and meaty!

Patio Choice Yellow is determinate, setting its huge crop of 100 or more fruits within just a few weeks. In theory this means you can preserve the crop more easily. However, we suspect that in practice it means you’ll have to space your Patio Choice Yellow plants out, sowing a few seeds each week all spring long. Once you taste these little yellow cherries, there’s no going back — you will want more immediately, fresh from the plant! If you have friends hoping to get bagfuls of “overflow” produce from your garden, prepare them for disappointment where Patio Choice Yellow is concerned!

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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