The AmericanHort webinar was presented by Diane Blazek, executive director of both All America Selections and the National Garden Bureau.
Photo courtesy of Diane Blazek

by Enrico Villamaino

Leading agricultural advocacy association AmericanHort recently released their “Top Performers from All-America Selections Vegetable & Herb Variety Trials.” The webinar was presented by Diane Blazek, who serves as executive director of All-America Selections as well as the National Garden Bureau.

“I like to encourage gardeners to plant the unique things,” explained Blake. “You can go to the market and buy green bell peppers really cheap. So if you’re going to use your precious garden space, why not do something unique?”

She began with a “favorite unique” selection of hers. The Cucumber Green Light F1 is an English-Persian cucumber that’s usually more expensive than more common cukes. A mini cucumber, this breed is high yielding and does very well in vertical gardens. “Not only is it a prolific grower, but it is delicious! You should harvest them when they’re only about two to four inches,” Blazek said.

She also touted the Fennel Antares F1 varietal. “What’s unique about this one is all the different uses. Of course, there’s the bulb, which is edible. You can also use it as an ornamental. You can allow it to go to seed and have fennel seed, so it’s a pollinator favorite.” Fennel Antares F1 has a sweet flavor and typically takes between seven to 10 days longer to bolt than other fennels.

The Kale Prizm F1 does not grow overly large as other kales do – 12 to 15 inches at a maximum. It has short, tight, ruffle-edged leaves and almost seamless stalks. It’s an excellent choice for containers. “That seems to be a trend that is no longer a trend. It’s here to stay – container growing for edibles,” Blazek said.

According to Blazek, “Pea Snak Hero is another fun one. With long, slender pods, it almost resembles a green bean, and it is very, very sweet.” She recommended planting this alongside pansies and violas in either spring or autumn. The Pea Snak Hero does not like wet feet, and its frequent harvesting will increase production.

“With Pumpkin Blue Prince F1 being a hybrid, you’ll get a lot more fruits per vine, with the vines being not quite as long,” Blazek continued. This breed is early maturing, typically ready for harvest just 110 days after sowing. With a vibrant blue color, these are a more compact option for those who would like to grow pumpkins but have a more limited space to work with.

Blazek pointed out tomatoes are the number one transplant item as well as the best seller overall in garden vegetables. “According to our surveys, the top categories are standard hybrids, cherry hybrids, saladette and Roma tomatoes.” She recommended growers try the Big Beef F1, which is both ideal for slicing and highly resistant to disease; Buffalosun F1, which has heirloom flavor and grows particularly well in the Northeast; and Chef’s Choice Yellow F1, with a sweet flavor, low acidity and the ability to flourish in the Southeast.

Calling them a “gateway to gardening,” Blazek said herbs are easy to grow, welcome additions to culinary gardens and a good idea for growers with limited space. Basils are the number one selling herb, and Blazek recommended giving Basil Dolce Fresca F1 a try. “It is ornamental and edible. It has sweet and tender leaves.” Dolce Fresca has a convenient compact shape, and is often used in making pesto. She also noted that Persian basil is often used to complement Thai dishes.

Dill Fernleaf is “great for pollinators,” Blazek said. “Those swallowtail butterflies like their dill.” These dwarf plants have abundant blue-green foliage and are slow to bolt.

The Chives Geisha is wider, flatter and more refined than other chives. Its white flowers give it ornamental value, and it serves as a “great butterfly feeder.” Blazek said Chives Geisha has a pleasing garlic flavor that is pronounced without being too strong.

Oregano Cleopatra, with its compact, silver-gray foliage, can be a decorative addition to any garden’s aesthetic. “It also has a mild spicy flavor that cooks really value.”

In her conclusion, Blazek illustrated how changing food trends are guiding what people are planting. “What we’ve seen recently as far as 2020 food trends are entirely plant-based diets, emphasis on texture, on-the-go healthy snacks, sustainable practices and origin knowledge, guilt-free desserts and micro-ethnic cuisines… If you’re a seller, it’s a good idea to take into account these sorts of shifts to better be able to supply your customers with what’s in demand at that moment.”