POUND RIDGE, N.Y. — “Variety’s the very spice of life,” said 18th century British poet William Cowper. The phrase, stale now, is still hard to beat. But statesman Benjamin Disraeli tried, calling variety “the mother of enjoyment.”
In the garden, variety is the name of the game. Horticulture teems with countless varieties and breeders tirelessly come up with “new” and “improved” flowers and vegetables. True, some gardeners stick to the “old” and a veritable cult has sprung up on the nurture of “heirlooms.” But there’s no denying the attraction and selling power of novelty.
Foremost in the sponsorship of new varieties, a non-profit organization called All-America Selections makes yearly awards based on nationwide trials. The winners are announced early in the fall and then featured in next year’s seed catalogs. Thirteen flowers and vegetables have been picked for 2002.
Awards don’t often come in pairs, but this time two pumpkins and two petunias have made the coveted list. Other winners are a vinca, a geranium, a cleome, a pansy, a rudbeckia, a basil, a cucumber, a winter squash and an ornamental pepper.
One of the pumpkins, called Orange Smoothie, aims at the child market. The dark orange skin is described as ideal for painting Halloween faces. It’s small enough for young hands, weighing five to eight pounds and with a strong, long handle. The fruit mature early, about 90 days after sowing seeds. Beyond decoration, Orange Smoothie has sweet meat for pies.
The other pumpkin, Sorcerer, is a biggie, weighing 15 to 22 pounds, but it’s produced on a compact vine. Of course, they also can be carved and painted and used for pie filling. They mature about 100 days after sowing.
With two pumpkins and one winter squash on the winner list, it’s a good year for that related family. Advance publicity for the squash, called Cornell’s Bush Delicata, says that butter and brown sugar are optional when eating this squash because it’s so sweet. The flesh is fine textured without coarse strings and it’s rich in Vitamin A. It takes about 100 days from sowing to harvest.
One of the petunias, named Lavender Wave, was cited for “exceptional” performance. It bears large two-inch, lavender blooms on ground-hugging plants that spread up to four feet. This petunia was described as particularly suited for sloping gardens, hanging baskets and window boxes.
The other petunia, called Tidal Wave Silver, sports silvery white blooms with dark purple centers. The grower can decide on the height of the mature plant. If spaced six inches apart and given trellis support, they will reach heights of two and three feet. Spaced a foot apart, they’ll reach 16 to 22 inches. They’re adaptable to container culture.
Neither petunia needs pinching nor pruning to flower all season and both resist severe weather and the disease, botrytis.
The geranium, called Black Magic Rose, boasts an unusual bicolor leaf pattern distinguishing it from other hybrid geraniums. Each leaf has a black center, creating an exceptional dark contrast to the bright rose florets, and each floret has a small white eye.
The vinca, Jaio Scarlet Eye, bears a rose-colored flower that distinguishes it from all other vincas. It’s described as perfect for gardeners who want prolonged garden color with minimal care.
A distinct bicolor design features the pansy, named Ultima Morpho after the Morpho butterfly, which is blue and yellow. In the pansy, the upper petals are midblue. The lower petals are bright yellow. Rays radiate from the center.
Mature plants spread eight to 10 inches and attain a height of five to eight inches.
Three feet tall, the cleome, Sparkler Blush, is smaller than most and thus is suited for gardens with less space. It flowers freely all season with pink blooms. Easy to grow, it is heat and drought tolerant and adaptable to most soil conditions.
The rudbeckia, Cherokee Sunset, offers gardeners a blend of autumn colors — bronze, mahogany, golden yellow and orange — and it flowers profusely the first year with double and semidouble blooms. They are long-lasting as cut flowers when grown in full sun.
The cucumber, called Diva, produces all-female flowers, giving it a potential for high yields. Maturing in 58 days, it has a tender skin, sweet flavor and crisp texture.
Ornamental as well as edible, the sweet basil, Magical Michael, features uniform-sized plants that are reliably 15 inches tall and 16 inches to 17 inches wide. The clearly defined size and shape are rare in basils. The leaves may be harvested within 30 days of transplanting.
The “heat” has been bred out of the ornamental pepper called Chilly Chili, making it safe for children who “explore their environment,” the announcement says. The petite, two-inch peppers make lively ornamental garnishes on salads.
EDITOR’S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.
End advance for Thursday, Nov. 1, and thereafter