AAS 2020 Breeders Cup winner Dr. Jianping Ren. Photo courtesy of AAS

by Courtney Llewellyn

More than 90 participants came together virtually for the All-America Selections organization update meeting in early February, which covered updates on 2020 activities and insights into planned 2021 events and activities. “It was an exciting but different year for AAS,” noted Jim Devereux, past president.“We were very lucky in our industry to have a whole new community of gardeners [in 2020].”

Diane Blazek began her Executive Director Report by stating, “I can’t imagine what this past year was like [for everyone]. Some of you were barred from doing trials; some of you worked without any assistance. We thank you all for your work.”

She said the lack of travel in 2020 was actually a good thing for AAS – it gave breeders more time to work on projects. It also allowed the organization to launch its long-anticipated platform for sharing trial data, via the Mercado app, in April. “We were very pleased with the way our judges embraced this new technology,” Blazek said. She said its highlights include reports that are easier to create, easier to read and easier to share with breeders.

AAS was busy on its marketing side last year. Blazek said 2020 was “a very good year to work with influencers.” She singled out a collaboration with cook and author Jonathan Bardzik. His “Seasons to Taste” series is on Amazon Prime Video, and it will allow viewers to learn about AAS and will feature specific AAS varieties. Another partnership is with Melinda Myers, a nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author, columnist and speaker who wrote a series of articles about AAS winners. Gary Pilarchik of “The Rusted Garden” YouTube fame helped launch AAS’s YouTube channel, which is up to about 7,000 followers and about a half million video views. AAS has started doing individual videos for each AAS winner, with winners from 2015 to present on its channel (youtube.com/c/AllAmericaSelectionsFlowersVegetables).

Blazek and meeting attendees also honored the 2020 Breeders Cup recipient, Dr. Jianping Ren of PanAmerican Seed. She developed Wave petunias, Cheyenne Spirit echinacea, Mesa Yellow gaillardia, PowWow Wild Berry echinacea and Sombrero Baja Burgundy echinacea. “We look forward to future entries from her,” Blazek said.

AAS President Scott Rusch presented the strategic goals for this year, starting with the use of the “Get to Know Our Judges” blog, the content of which is meant to inspire gardeners and give them advice along with meeting the organization’s judges.

Rusch explained new trial guidelines for 2021, stating the organization realized it needed to update its goals. These include edibles from seed (trialed in-ground or in containers); ornamentals from seed (trialed in-ground or in containers); ornamentals from non-seed propagation (trialed in-ground or in containers); and perennials (trialed in-ground over three winters).

Additionally, new rules (effective for 2021 entries) are being introduced. Entries must be new and never before sold to the North American home garden market at time of entry. All entries can be sold after entry now – sales can begin while the variety is in trial and exclusives are allowed while it’s in trial, but no mention of AAS is allowed in association with the entered variety until after the trial is complete and it becomes an AAS winner (if eligible). “This just standardizes the rules for everyone,” Rusch said.

AAS winners from 2020 were honored again during the meeting, including Celosia Kelos Candela Pink, Leucanthemum Sweet Daisy™ Birdy, Echalion Crème Brulee, Pepper Pot-a-peño F1, acorn squash Goldilocks and Zinnia Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor – the first AAS Gold Medal winner in 17 years.

Looking forward, the organization is now accepting nominations for its 2021 Medallion of Honor, which honors those with a lifelong dedication to horticulture and AAS. The organization’s Summer Summit 2021 is set to be virtual, but hopes are high the following year’s summit will be taking place Sept. 7 – 9, 2022 in Vancouver, BC.

For more information on AAS, visit all-americaselections.org.