Marianne Ophardt

Consider a star for this year's garden

If you're a gardener who mail orders flower and vegetable seeds every year, you've probably been receiving catalogs since the beginning of the new year.

Me too! Isn't great? Every company wants us to buy their newest introductions, but I always wonder how they will do in my garden. Will they be as good as the catalog says?

All-America Selections (AAS) tests new varieties of flowers and vegetables and introduces the "select" winners each year. Tested in gardens across North America, the winners have performed well under many different conditions. However, great performance alone doesn't win AAS honors. The plants must also be significantly better than the currently available varieties of the same type of plant.

Osteospermum F1 "Asti White" is one of only three 2008 All-America Selections. Osteospermums are also known as Cape Daisies as well as African Daisies and Blue-Eyed Daisies. They are a daisylike member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and are native to Africa. There are about 50 species of Osteospermums, but the ones available to us as annual bedding plants are usually hybrids.

Osteospermums are relatively "new" flowers, not becoming readily available to U.S. gardeners until about 10 years ago. The flower colors were limited at first, but now you can find them in pink, purple, lavender, magenta, white, cream, yellow, gold, apricot and orange. The center discs may be blue, purple or yellow.

The 2008 All America Selection "Asti White" has pure white 2-plus inch flowers with blue center discs. However, what's remarkable is that it's the first white osteospermum to be propagated from seed and the flowers stay open even when it's dreary. Usually, osteospermum flowers close at night and when the weather is cloudy.

Osteospermum tend to be drought-tolerant and do best when placed in a sunny garden spot with well-drained soil. The plants don't like "wet feet" and are prone to root rot. However, while they do survive drought conditions well, many osteospermum cultivars will stop flowering when stressed by drought or excessive heat. "Asti White" is reported to be exceptionally heat and drought tolerant and that is one of the reasons it won the AAS award.

The other reason for its selection is its long bloom period. It should keep producing flowers all summer and fall if the plants are dead-headed regularly. (This is the removal of the dead flowers.) Regular watering and fertilizing alsowill promote season-long flowering. The uniform, compact plants grow to about 20 inches tall and wide. They are great for the garden, but are also dandy for use in containers (6 inches or larger).

"Asti White" has a sister, "Asti Lavender Shades," with delightful lavender flowers. It performs similarly in the garden.

The other 2008 AAS selections?

One is "Skippy XL Plum-Gold," an F1 viola with gold and plum little faces. It won as a cool season bedding plant.

The AAS vegetable winner is "Hansel," an F1 eggplant with "miniature" finger-sized fruit produced in 3-inch clusters on 3-foot-tall plants.

You should be able to find all three of these winners at nurseries this spring.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Extension Office in Benton County.