In spring, gardener's fancy turns to thoughts of success

March 20, 1993|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,Knight-Ridder News Service

Many gardeners would love to try something new, but worry about the risks of failure. Aren't there any sure-fire plants out there?

For these gardeners, there are four new flowers and vegetables. They are All-America winners, the seed industry's designation for the best of the new varieties showing up in seed racks and catalogs this year.

For gardeners who don't like sowing seeds and hovering over them for weeks, young plants should be available in many garden centers at planting time this spring.

Each of the winners represents years of research and was found superior to similar varieties already available.

There is a new color in verbena: deep violet blue. A new pumpkin is small enough to use as a flower vase, but good enough for pies. A new golden tomato matures faster. A heat-tolerant cupflower has white flowers.

Some past All-America winners, such as Jolly Joker pansy, First Lady marigold and Sugar Snap peas, gained instant popularity and turned into classics for the garden.

Green Comet broccoli, Apricot Brandy celosia and Scarlet Ruffles zinnias are three more that not only won honors from judges across North America but scored with home gardeners as well.

Here are the winners for 1993.

* Imagination verbena. Verbena made a huge leap in recent years as a popular plant for pots and hanging baskets. But studies showed Imagination to be more tolerant of heat and drought than other verbenas. Flowers are violet-blue.

It takes 17 weeks from seed to flower and germination occurs only in the dark. Growing plants from seed may prove vexing for inexperienced gardeners; instead, look for young plants at garden centers.

* Husky Gold tomato. This tomato is deep golden orange, inside and out, and reported to be less tart than other golden and yellow tomatoes. Its short height -- 36 to 40 inches -- and width -- 20 to 28 inches -- make it best suited for growing in wire cages.

Other advantages are wilt resistance and early maturity of 68 days from setting out transplants. It is also suited for growing in a large pot.

* Mont Blanc nierembergia. A lot of you probably have not heard of this plant, which is commonly called cupflower. It is a tad like alyssum, but it tolerates summer heat much better. This variety is white.

It is a low-growing -- 5 to 6 inches tall -- plant that spreads about 1 foot, making it well-suited for edges and baskets. Nierembergia takes 10 to 17 weeks to grow from seed to flower.

* Baby Bear pumpkin. These pumpkins, usually 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, are suited for pie filling or decorative uses. Baby Bear has the standard jack o' lantern shape, just much smaller.

The vine requires about 8 to 10 feet of garden space; under optimum conditions, each will produce eight to 10 pumpkins. Start seeds indoors in April, move outdoors when soil is warm.

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