A purple carrot. A black pepper plant with shiny, black fruit. A new zinnia that blooms with a fiery red center and yellow petals.
Color is clearly the theme for the 2006 All-America Selections, flowers and vegetables "with superior garden performance" judged in impartial seed trials around North America. The 11 winners will be available through seed catalogs and at local nursery centers this spring.
"The number of winners this year is representative of the excellent breeding that is occurring at many different companies," said Nona Koivula, executive director of All-America Selections, based in Downers Grove, Ill. Certainly, the winners are eye-catching.
Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame!' has a unique bicolor pattern: a scarlet-rose center and yellow petal edges. This zinnia has a long flowering season -- from early summer to killing frost -- and a vase life of up to two weeks. "And it is absolutely maintenance free," Koivula said.
Just as dramatic is the ornamental pepper plant 'Black Pearl,' which looks better as the summer progresses.
The black foliage grows into a graceful pyramid shape without pinching or pruning. It is heat tolerant and requires little water or fertilizer -- good news for Maryland gardeners who watch as their gardens flag in August.
As it branches, the plant produces clusters of black, pearl-like peppers that turn red as they mature and are very hot, Koivula warns. "They are wonderful plants at the end of the season," she said. "And the peppers look like berries."
It turns out that carrots carry latent genetic material that would enable them to be any color from white to lavender. "I guess a thousand years ago, someone just decided that carrots needed to be orange," Koivula said.
Breeders have released the lavender genes and produced 'Purple Haze,' a carrot with a halo of purple around a bright orange center.
Purple, like black, is a trendy color in gardens -- and in kitchens. "It will be a great addition for gourmet cooks," Koivula said. "Be the first on your block to make purple coleslaw."
Other All-America Selections for 2006:
Cilantro 'Delfino,' an aromatic, edible herb with a unique fine, fern-like foliage that requires less chopping.
Pepper 'Carmen,' a sweet pepper with an unusual bull's-horn shape. High yield, sweet flavor and early harvest are among its qualities.
Pepper 'Mariachi,' a colorful plant that produces an abundant crop of mild chile peppers that can be harvested at the early, creamy-white stage. They are especially flavorful when roasted whole on the grill.
Viola 'Skippy XL Red-Gold,' the first viola cornuta to earn the AAS award, has a unique ruby-red and violet-red coloring around a yellow face. It is also nearly large enough to resemble a pansy.
Diascia 'Diamonte Coral Rose,' a frost-tolerant annual that also performs well during the summer. It is perfect for containers and combines well with other cool-tolerant plants, such as snapdragon or dianthus.
Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple' has a strong fragrance that scents the air in the evening. Its lavish deep purple color also sets it apart.
Dianthus 'Supra Purple' has a rosy-purple color that may make it a favorite this year.
Salvia 'Evolution' is the first of its variety with lilac flower spikes, and it widens the color spectrum for those who are looking to add blue to their gardens.