What is your definition of a classic? It depends, I guess, on what it’s being referred to. A classic song is one that stirs emotions and memories, or gets your feet moving. You can watch a classic movie several times and enjoy it on a new level with each viewing. Webster’s defines classic as “belonging in a certain category of excellence; having a lasting artistic worth.”
With 2007 being the 75th anniversary of the All-America Selections the word classic was applied by the organization to flowers and vegetables. The AAS awarded the classic designation to four flower varieties and one vegetable. Out of the hundreds of varieties that have held the All-America Selection title over the past 75 years, these five were deemed worthy of praise and, as Webster says, “belong in a certain category of excellence.”
It’s hard to argue that a large, beefsteak-type tomato that produces early in the season and has good disease resistance isn’t a classic. ‘Big Beef’ was introduced in 1994 and has been producing 8 to 12 ounce fruits on plants of outstanding vigour ever since. The same breeder is also responsible for ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Husky Gold’ tomatoes, two other AAS winners.
If you’ve never grown annual dianthus in your garden, they really are gems. ‘Ideal Violet’ earns its designation as a classic because of its heat and cold tolerance. Bred in southern France this dianthus is a cross between Dianthus chinensis (the old-fashioned China Pink) and Dianthus barbatus (the equally old-fashioned Sweet William). The breeder noticed that the plants endured cold temperatures early and late in the season, while continuing to bloom through the baking heat of summer. Growing a foot high and wide ‘Ideal Violet’ is covered with single violet blooms for months.
Gardeners are familiar with the star pattern that is found on many types of bedding petunias, but back in 1988 it was new territory. The problem was that the star didn’t remain constant under stressful growing conditions. ‘Ultra Crimson Star’ passed the test and has been a very popular variety, with pure white stars on huge crimson grandiflora flowers.
Sticking with petunias, the introduction of the ‘Wave Purple’ petunia back in 1992 had a huge impact on the entire genus, leading to today’s supertunias. The Wave was the first petunia that grew along the ground like a ground cover, it was extremely vigorous and it flowered continuously. Wave petunias are still one of the most popular of all bedding plants.
Pansies were never the same after 1966, when ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ was introduced as an All-America Selection. It was a vigorous hybrid that performed well under diverse growing conditions and produced huge blooms that would set without cold temperatures. It also came in a huge range of colours, from blue, scarlet, cherry red, yellow and orange to pure white. You can still find ‘Majestic Giants Mix’ for sale in spring and fall in many garden centres over forty years after it first appeared.
While it is exciting to find, plant and evaluate new plants in the garden each year it’s nice to know that, like that old favourite song, we can fall back on the classics to perform well for us too.