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Down to Earth Gardening

What does one write about gardening when it's below zero outside and the only thing I can think about is the line at the post office? Well, the good people at All-America Selections have come to my rescue by announcing their 2009 AAS Winners. All-America Selections are newly introduced plant varieties that have been tested in trial gardens across the country and have delivered on the promises that these are the best plants of their kind. The West Central Research and Outreach Center Horticulture Garden in Morris is an All-America Selection Display Garden that displays the winners of the past five years. Be sure to keep an eye out for these selections on your next visit.

The Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner is Viola "Rain Blue and Purple". This sounds like a Johnny Jump-Up lover's dream come true. It is cold and heat tolerant, so it won't turn crispy on you in July. It boasts that the blooms change color from purple and white to purple and blue as they mature. It also has a trailing habit and spreads 10-14 inches, making it perfect for container plantings.

Last year's vegetable winner was the eggplant "Hansel" and now this year we have "Gretel". "Gretel" is another mini-eggplant, but this one is white. It's also very early, with a 55 day harvest in good conditions, which should be gratifying to impatient gardeners. They grow in clusters, and the fruit is pure white and sweet with a tender skin. The plants are about 3 feet wide and tall, and should do well in containers.

Another vegetable winner is "Honey Bear", an acorn squash that is meant to be baked and served in the half shell. As the name implies, it has a sweet flavor when cooked. The plants themselves are compact and will grow 2 -3 feet tall and spread 4-5 feet without vines. That's great news for gardeners with limited space. The ripened squash weighs about a pound and each one serves two people. "Honey Bear" is also tolerant of powdery mildew, which will help to keep it producing the entire growing season. From seed to table is about 100 days, which should be adequate for our growing season.

The last Vegetable winner is the melon "Lambkin". I know, a melon is usually thought of as a fruit. The term "vegetable" is a culinary term, not a scientific one, so let's just leave it at that. A major issue with growing melons here is that our growing season can be cut short with an August frost. This has happened to me one too many times and I haven't tried to grow melons in years. I think I may have to try this one, though. "Lambkin" matures in about 70 days and is oval shaped with a sweet, aromatic, white juicy flesh. These melons have a long shelf life and are often called Christmas melons. So beware friends, next year you may find melons in your stocking! Merry Christmas!