Between the Rows: Balancing new, old in your 2018 garden

  • Marigold Super Hero Spry is one of All-America Selections 12 new, edible plants to try in the new year. COURTESY ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS

For The Recorder
Friday, December 29, 2017

When I was a Girl Scout, we sang a song with the line: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, but the other gold.” As I look out at my garden, and look at the dawning of a new year, I am thinking about the new things I may plant and use in the garden, but I know there are certain things that I will always keep.

This is the time of year when the catalogs can fill our mailboxes, or our emails, with colorful photos of new varieties of familiar plants. The All-America Selections has chosen 12 special edible, and ornamental, plants to recommend for 2018. They chose Pak Choi Asian Delight, a beautiful Marigold Super Hero Spry and Canna South Pacific Orange, which is a real stunner.

The All-America Selections (AAS) program was created in 1932 to provide a testing service so that gardeners would know which new seeds were truly improved and would be successful over most of the country. The 2018 Canna South Pacific Orange can be grown from seed, attracts pollinators, is more vigorous and more uniform than other varieties, with more basal branching. They are also smaller and suitable for containers.

Asian Delight produces a beautiful, mini, 5- to 7-inch-head, with tender white ribs, that has been rated vastly superior to other varieties because it does not bolt as fast as others, which means it will have a longer harvest season.

I love marigolds and the Super Hero Spry is a compact, 10- to 12-inch French marigold with beautiful colors that needs no deadheading. Plants that are self-cleaning, that need no deadheading, are one of the great gifts of hybridizers.

The Perennial Plant Association has named the Millenium allium its “Plant of 2018.” It is a compact allium with rosy purple, rounded clusters of blossoms. It blooms in late July and August. Alliums are easy care plants, increase nicely and attract pollinators, especially butterflies. Last year, the PPA chose Asclepius tuberosa, also known as “butterfly weed,” as one of its winners because it is a butterfly magnet. Gardeners are becoming more aware of the importance of pollinators and their needs.

Because Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee-owned company, does not use GMO seeds, and has dependable organic seeds, it is one of my favorite seed companies. This year, they announced that they are adding 150 new offerings, many of which are new varieties.

Valentine is a new, bright red grape tomato, rich in the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Along with its rich flavor, it has good resistance to early blight.

Fino is a new fennel with a larger, heavier bulb, with good bolt tolerance. This is a good vegetable for succession planting because it can be planted in summer for fall harvest.

Carmine larkspur is a new variety of an old favorite, with deep pink flower spikes between 9- to 12-inches-long. It is useful in flower arranging, and attracts hummingbirds. I have grown larkspur, but somehow never realized that all parts of this plant are poisonous. If you have young children or pets, you need to be aware of this.

Of course, there are the new “olds,” those heritage varieties that have their own new place in the sun. The Seed Savers Exchange has been around since 1975, with the goal of saving heirloom seeds, sharing those seeds with gardeners and working to preserve the biodiversity of our food crops. It is important to keep many types of a vegetables in production because we never know what blights or diseases may arise, or what genes will be needed to create a new hybrid.

Seed Savers Exchange does have a seed bank with 25,000 plant varieties, but it also grows seeds and makes them available to gardeners to grow for their own use and to save. Nowadays, you can sometimes find Seed Savers seeds on sale in familiar packets at the nursery center, but you can also become a member of the Seed Savers. Membership grants you a 10 percent discount at their online store, subscription to the quarterly Heritage Farm Companion, free or reduced admission to gardens, and conservatories through the American Horticultural Society.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is relatively new on the scene, but is an amazing company started by Jerre Gettler in 1998, when he was only 17. Now, he owns Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri, Comstock Ferre and Company in Connecticut, and the Petaluma Seed Bank in California. He also instituted the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa California, which is possibly the world’s largest annual heritage food event.

The Baker Creek catalog is more than 300 pages, with hundreds of seed varieties from around the world. This year, some of the new seeds are big horse spotted corn from Lima, Peru, the achievement runner bean from Britain, and Aonaga Jibai cucumber from Japan.

Of course, there will always be new plants, and we will want to try some of them. We gardeners are great scholars and we are always ready to learn. But, we also treasure our own old favorites. And that is a good thing.

I wish you all a beautiful, productive and delicious 2018 in your garden.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.