The best known award for annual plants in the US is the All American Selections (AAS) program. New flowers and vegetables are grown side-by-side with comparable available varieties and are evaluated by garden performance, size, taste, disease-resistance and any other characteristic important to the home gardener.
2017 Winner Okra Candle Fire
Judges deem the performers that show clear superiority to their comparison as AAS winners. There were 16 AAS winners this year, including a red zinnia, a miniature watermelon, and a purple okra.
There was a time when I grew every new AAS winner each year. This stopped in 1992 when “Thumbelina Carrot” (above) was designated an AAS vegetable. No way was I going to go to the trouble of germinating and weeding carrots to harvest a root “roughly the size of a golf ball” at the end of the season. New is not always better.
AAS was founded in 1932 and hundreds of plants have been designated winners. Very few of the early winners have had staying power. Most of those “new” prize-winning seeds are no longer available, demonstrating that they either did not live up to the judges’ expectations or they have been superseded by an improved variety.
2017 Winner Celosia Asian Garden
Some remain stalwarts in many gardens today. Sensation cosmos was an AAS winner in 1936 and Early Prolific Yellow squash won in 1938. Red Sails lettuce won in 1985 Other previous AAS winners that I grow are Rocket snapdragons, Snowcrown cauliflower, Carmen peppers, the Profusion series of zinnias, certain petunias from the Wave series and Bright Lights chard. Two widely grown tomatoes that have received the AAS award are Celebrity (1984) and Big Beef (1994).