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Last week, we looked at the winners of the 2017 All-America Selections testing program. It has approximately 80 test gardens all over, from Alaska to Canada to California to Florida, as well as over 175 display gardens all across the continent, which are not used for judging but to show gardeners how well plants grow locally.

The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just during harvest. Only the entries with the highest average score nationwide are considered worthy of a national AAS award. Since some plants will naturally do better in specific areas, such as a hot, dry climate or a cool, humid climate, the country is divided into six regions. Plants might win one or more regional awards, as opposed to a national award.

When you see the red, white and blue logo of All-America Selections on seed packets or bedding plant tags or in catalogs, you can expect that plant to do well in your garden. Even AAS winners from several years ago are more likely to prove successful than nonwinners.

Vegetables are judged for such traits as earliness to harvest, total yield, fruit taste, fruit quality, ease of harvest, plant habit and disease and pest resistance.

The Patio Pride sweet pea produces pods that are harvested very early. They only need 40 days from planting to be ready for harvest. It "can be one of your first spring harvests or one of the last fall harvests from your southeastern garden," the AAS website says. Anyone can grow it in containers, but it is especially good for southeastern gardens.

Honeybaby is a very productive variety of winter squash that produces numerous fruits on a compact plant. Vines only grow to be 2 to 3 feet long. This variety saves space in the garden and can be grown in containers.

Mini Love is a personal-sized watermelon perfect for smaller families and smaller gardens. Short vines (3 to 4 feet long) can still produce up to six fruits per plant when grown in smaller spaces. Several judges commented on the crack- and split-resistant rinds, which are important for reducing crop loss. The flesh of the watermelon is a deep red color, and the rind is thin but strong, allowing it to be carved into attractive shapes for fruit salad presentations. Mini Love has a high sugar content resulting in sweet, crisp, juicy flesh that will be a true summer delight for watermelon lovers.

AAS has never before trialed and declared a fennel variety an AAS winner. Antares fennel is an edible bulb that can be used for its ornamental fronds, as a seed producer and as a favorite food of pollinators, namely swallowtail caterpillars.

The Mad Hatter pepper has a refreshing citrusy, floral flavor that remains sweet and only occasionally expresses mild heat near the seeds. It is a vigorous and robust plant that provides an abundant harvest.

The fourth addition to the popular Chef's Choice tomato series is Chef's Choice Yellow, which produces yellow beefsteak-type tomatoes. It produces large quantities of 10-ounce fruits on a 5-foot indeterminate vine. This variety is resistant to cracks, scabs and the diseases fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt and tomato mosaic virus. It grows best in the southeast.

Patio Choice Yellow is a new compact determinate tomato developed specifically for small spaces and container gardens. It produces very large yields of 1/2-ounce bright yellow cherry tomatoes on short vines that grow only 18 inches tall. This mild-flavored cherry tomato variety sets over 100 fruit on compact plants. Consider consuming these beautiful tomatoes fresh, cooking them in the oven or consuming them sun-dried for a deliciously sweet treat. For even easier picking, plant them in a hanging basket.

Candle Fire is red okra with pods that are round, not ribbed. They have a brighter red color than the reddish-burgundy okras currently available. It received high marks for productivity, taste, texture, tenderness and ornamental value (having red pods on red stems). It thrives in the heat and is disease-resistant even in hot, humid climates such as the South, where fried okra is a tradition. The fruit is suitable for consumption and ornamental usage. Aged fruit can be used in flower arrangements. Dry seeds can be used for (caffeine-free) coffee.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at

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