As I begin autumn cleanup, it’s productive to observe what grew the best, bloomed the most spectacularly and thrived during the brutal drought of 2012.
On this late September morning, 2012, it's 31°F, one of the earliest freezes here along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The earliest, September 10, 2000, preceded a record-breaking snow season. Our normal freeze date is October 10.
The superstar of my garden was ‘Senorita Blanca’ cleome, a Proven Winner’s annual that will be everywhere in 2013. Four tiny plants exploded with growth, filled 20 square feet with non-stop white-lavender blooms and stood up to oppressive heat with little water. Plants grew nearly four-feet high, so it’s an annual for impact or back of the border.
For that last four years, All-America Selections has asked gardeners across the country to pick the top three new flower varieties they love the most. You can view and vote for your favorites at 28 botanical gardens across the country or vote online at the contest’s website .
2012 American Garden Award winners are (in order of votes) ‘Santa Cruz Sunset begonia, ‘Big Kiss’ White Flame gazania and ‘Surfina Deep Red’ petunia. All three are tough survivors that offer unique color and form.
Grand Prize Winner 'Santa Cruz™ Sunset' begonia is smothered with orange blooms that cascade from hanging baskets, urns or in mass plantings. Heat, drought and rain tolerant, the begonia thrives in any location from full sun to shade. Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens, one of the display gardens, said that the begonia flourished in the extreme-drought area where Rotary is located in Wisconsin.
Second Place Winner Gazania 'Big Kiss™ White Flame' F1 has huge white and rose striped flowers that cover full, bushy plants. This heat-lover thrives in tough conditions. The uniquely-colored huge flowers are high impact displays in beds and containers.
Third Place Winner Petunia® 'Surfina Deep Red' is the first true deep red petunia gardeners have been seeking for years. No pinching or pruning is needed to keep plants spreading and flowering.
Giant heads for 9-year-olds!
Third-graders across the country can now grow their own humongous cabbage in the National Bonnie 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. It’s free to any third grade classroom in the country and teachers can register now at: http://bonniecabbageprogram.com/  Plants will be trucked to classrooms in early spring. Over a million are delivered annually.
The plants donated are ‘O.S. Cross’ cabbage; the O.S. is short for oversized. The cabbages grow upwards of 40 pounds, appealing to the adventuresome side of nine-year-olds! The biggest, so far, weighed in at 65 pounds.
Jael Clark, Washington state 2012 winner, proudly displays his gigantic cabbage head. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Plants.
Each child in the program receives a 2-inch cabbage plant, plus an instruction sheet, to take home and grow. At the end of the season, teachers select a class winner, based on size, maturity and appearance. The winner is entered in a state scholarship drawing. State winners are randomly selected by the state’s Director of Agriculture. Then Bonnie Plants awards a $1,000 scholarship for education to each state winner.
My third-grade neighbor, Amy, has already asked for a sack of cow manure for Christmas to prepare a garden spot for her cabbage plant!
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com .