Getting to Know All-America Selections By Jasmina Dolce

Embarking on its 80 year anniversary, AAS opened its Summer Summit to growers, brokers, distributors, garden centers, media and garden writers. With record-breaking attendance, the event was a hit.

In August, I attended the All-America Selections Summer Summit in Monterey, Calif. I was pretty excited because this was the first time that the media was invited to participate in the annual meeting, giving editors an insider's look at the AAS trials, winners and the judging process. I was also able to get to know some of the seed company representatives, breeders, AAS judges and other industry colleagues that have long supported the organization.

Trial Grounds at a Glance

Our first day of tours began at Sakata Seeds in nearby Salinas. There we walked through the AAS trial grounds. I got to see some wonderful zinnia, angelonia osteospermum and canna and ornamental basil comparisons. It was interesting to see how the AAS judges evaluate each variety and what traits they take into consideration. They literally look at every detail. We also got to walk through Sakata's extensive vegetable trial. We even participated in a cucumber taste test!

After Sakata, we spent some time walking through the gardens at American Takii where they also had an American Garden Award display. The AGA is a separate award that is determined by voting of the general public. There are various AGA display gardens throughout the country, so voters can check them out at their leisure and pick their favorite and vote on the spot.

Our final stop that day was at the Syngenta Vegetables and Flowers trial grounds, where we saw many of the same varieties that were on display at Sakata. It's amazing what a difference 30 miles makes. Although we were looking at the exact same flowers and vegetables, you can see the difference … in height, color, bloom size, etc.

This experience was especially rewarding for me because it helped me gain a whole new perspective on the industry. I write about these winning varieties each year, but I finally got the chance to witness the trial process in action, from the displays at trial grounds to the scoring sheet the judges use.

AAS Honors & Logo Launch

The final day began with an awards ceremony, where All-America Selections honored those individuals who have made a significant contribution to the industry. First was the Medallion of Honor, an award designed to recognize an individual's lifelong dedication to advancement in the field of horticulture. Kim Bodger was the 2011 recipient of this prestigious award. The second award, the AAS Breeders' Cup, was given to Yosh Arimitsu, a flower breeder at Bodger Seeds since 1977. This award was established to recognize a breeder who has dramatically influenced horticulture by his or her work in bringing significant improvements to specific flower or vegetable classes.

After the awards ceremony, the new All-America Selections logo was revealed. Celebrating the organization's 80 year anniversary next year, they wanted a new logo with a fresh modern design to take the organization into the next 80 years.

The Future of AAS

Later that day, I was part of two separate panel presentations at McShane's Nursery in Salinas: an industry panel and a consumer panel. The industry panel consisted of individuals involved in various parts of the horticulture chain, from R&D for a big grower to independent garden center owner to seed packet business. Panelists discussed branding, ways to educate the consumer, social media and other market trends.

The consumer panel spanned people with a variety of gardening backgrounds, from master gardeners to plant killers. They discussed what they look for in a plant and what they expect from a garden center. Another huge topic was their awareness (or lack thereof) of the All-America Selections program. They all agreed they like the idea of promoting award winners at the consumer level, but they need more information available to them.

During the live panel sessions, one industry panelist mentioned that many growers don't want to use any of their greenhouse space to trial AAS varieties because they get nothing in return and it requires extra work. After attending this meeting, I know that statement couldn't be any more incorrect. By trialing varieties, growers not only support the organization but they support the industry as a whole. We want consumers to love our products, and with as few complaints as possible. The only way to achieve that is to give them the best product possible. And the only way to find out which varieties are the best performers is by conducting trials in various locations across the United States.

One of the things I love most about All-America Selections is the organization's tagline: Tested Nationally & Proven Locally. You know more than anyone else that each region has its own climatic conditions that can significantly affect the way plants will perform. The trial and judging process takes place throughout the country so that only the varieties that perform well in a specific region will be promoted at garden centers and at the consumer level of that region. One consumer panelist brought up an excellent point: "Why would a garden center even carry a plant that doesn't work well in my town?"

The better we know these plants, the better we can promote them. If you haven't attended an AAS Summer Summit, I highly encourage it. The 2012 Summer Summit will take place in conjunctions with the Michigan Plant Tour Days, Aug. 7 to 10, 2012.

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Jasmina Dolce

Jasmina Dolce is managing editor of GPN magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]

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