March 2011: Announcing the 2011 AAS Winners!

Every year the All America Selection (AAS) organization announces the best new flower and vegetable seeds, based by independent analysis from experts in gardens all over the U.S. At Park Seed, a portion of our 9 acres of gardens is devoted to AAS trials each spring as we grow and evaluate new candidates for the award every year. (If you can visit us on Flower Day, you'll get to see all the hopeful 2012 candidates growing merrily!)

AAS candidates are judged on ease of culture, improvement over previous varieties, beauty (for flowers), productivity and flavor (for vegetables), and resistance to disease and pests. We love the AAS winners because they are evaluated for use in the home garden, not by experts in a lab or hot-house! You'll find that AAS winners always perform much better than expected, no matter what the weather does or how often you get into the garden to tend them.

The 2011 AAS Winners have been announced, and all are available for purchase on our website. (We always carry all the current AAS winners, and a good many of the previous ones as well. Look for AAS bursts on our website to uncover some real treasures!) The newest varieties are not in our catalog, so you can only find them online. We know you'll want to try at least a few in your garden this season, just to see what all the fuss is about! Here they are:

Viola Shangri La Marina Viola Shangri La Marina
Quicker to bloom than ever, and a new color combo for the family!
Gaillardia Arizona Apricot Gaillardia Arizona Apricot
An entirely new color on big daisies that bloom in no time!
Salvia Summer Jewel Red Salvia Summer Jewel Red
More blooms than ever before, and over a longer season!
Ornamental Kale Glamour Red Ornamental Kale
Glamour Red

These fringed leaves are glossy, not waxy, for brighter-than-ever color!
Pumpkin Hijinks Hybrid Pumpkin Hijinks Hybrid
The perfect size for painting or decorating!
Tomato Terenzo Hybrid Tomato Terenzo Hybrid
Harvest all your cherry tomatoes at once on this dwarf patio plant!
Tomato Lizzano Hybrid Tomato Lizzano Hybrid
This patio trailing variety stays dwarf but keeps bearing all season!
   
April 2011: Breathe Easier with a House Full of Plants!
Let the plants do the housework; you're needed in the garden!Scientists are now proving what gardeners have always known: houseplants improve the quality of the air around them. No, it's not just the elevated mood brought on by the sight of a lovely Cyclamen in the bathroom or a majestic Lemon Eucalyptus beside the window! Nor is it photosynthesis, the process by which plants release oxygen into the atmosphere. Houseplants really do clean the air around us.

New research demonstrates that houseplants actually scrub contaminants from the air in two ways: 1) by leaf pores absorbing them, and 2) by microorganisms in the potting mix ingesting them. And since most Americans now spend more than 90% of their time indoors (why aren't they out gardening like we are?!) and since the EPA estimates that pollutants are present at 2 to 5 times a higher rate indoors than outdoors, finding an all-natural way to clean things up is a godsend!

The process of cleaning the air via houseplant is called "phytoremediation" (now we know it's official: it's got a $10 name!), and it is estimated that the presence of just 6 houseplants in a 1200- to 1500-square-foot home can reduce air-borne contaminants by as much as 75%. That's a lot of dust, smoke, and chemicals gone from our homes!

So if you have been considering growing a Ponytail Palm, Moses-in-the-Cradle, or Fiber Optic Grass plants this season, go ahead and plant the whole pack of seeds. You'll have enough little plants to share around with all your friends this spring and summer. And who wouldn't appreciate a gift of fresh air?!

May 2011: Have You Seen the New 'Determinate' Tomatoes Yet?

Lizzano Hybrid The English language is always changing, and we gardeners are experiencing a shift in the meaning of an important term right now. Determinate, when applied to tomatoes, used to mean 2 things: 1) that the plant reaches a fixed mature size and then stops growing, and 2) that it sets all of its fruit in a short period of time, usually no more than 2 weeks.

Tomatoes that keep growing throughout the season — getting taller and taller, with new fruiting stems arising continuously over a period of many weeks or even several months — are called indeterminate.

Well, lately the meaning of the word determinate has changed, probably in response to the introduction of a new type of tomato plant. Like the old determinate plants, this type reaches a fixed size and then stops growing, but unlike its ancestors, it does not set all of its fruit at once. Instead, it keeps producing over the entire summer season, just like an indeterminate type!

Sweet 'n' Neat HybridAlso called semi-determinate, this new type of tomato combines the best of both worlds. It has the restrained growth of a bush type, so you can grow it in containers on the patio, yet it also has the long season of an indeterminate type. Like a compact flowering plant, it gives you more of what you want in less space!

Sweet 'n' Neat Hybrid, Mega Bite Hybrid, and Lizzano Hybrid are all "new" determinate or semi-determinate tomatoes. Try one this season, and we predict you'll have a new favorite for patio or garden!

July 2011: Flower Day 2011 Brings Applause (and lots of great deals)!
New Contest -- Write a Review on ParkSeed.com!

More than 3,500 people visited us in Greenwood, South Carolina on June 25, attending our annual Flower Day as part of the South Carolina Festival of Flowers. Gardeners, photographers, nature lovers, and strolling families all "walked the rows" in our 9-acre trial gardens, shopped the bargains at our Garden Center, took our horticulturists' tours, participated in our silent plant auction, and ate lots of great food.

It's no secret that getting to Park Seed early on Flower Day is a good idea, both to secure the best bargains and to beat the heat. But this year our guests outdid themselves, appearing as early as 6:30 a.m. By 8:00, a sizable crowd had formed. And when we threw open our doors, our guests applauded! That meant so much to our employees, who give up a Saturday to work hard on Flower Day — not to mention the months of "prep" that go into this annual open house. To all of you who came and didn't hear this in person from one of us: thank you for your continued support. It means everything to us!

One thing we can never predict on Flower Day is which plants will most capture the public fancy. This year the Dahlias and the American Garden Award display attracted the most attention, followed closely by new Red-leaved Perilla (photos really don't do justice to these big, brilliant leaves, and of course they don't convey that powerful spicy-mint fragrance!), Four o'Clock Salmon Sunset, and the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year, beautiful Amsonia hubrichtii!

In addition to these newcomers, old favorites continue to wow 'em in the aisles: Lily Silk Road stops visitors in their tracks every year. Hydrangea Forever Pink was in exceptionally fine form on Flower Day, and in the vegetable garden, our Tomatillos drew oohs and ahhs, both from folks who weren't sure what they were and from gardeners who had never seen them grown so big before.

One new herb that we hope to debut in next spring's seed catalog got rave reviews from our guests: Parsley Lisette, a bright lime-green curly-leaved variety with bushy, tight foliage you can spot from way across the garden. It will definitely be the brightest green spot in your herb garden!

Great bargains were to be had in the Garden Center, and all day long our golf carts could be seen overloaded with plants as Park Seed employees ferried guests and their goodies back to their vehicles. It was often a challenge to fit all of the trees, shrubs, plants, and bulbs into backseats and truck beds, but we're pleased to think that everybody went home with a few new finds for their garden.

If you weren't able to visit on Flower Day this year, consider making the trip in 2012. We'd love to meet you, and we know you'd enjoy your day in the garden!

September 2011: Natural Beauty Products from Your Garden

Turn that late-summer garden into your own ready-made spa by harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, and even avocadoes for their beneficial effects on your skin!

The acids in tomatoes are excellent for your skin, especially when combined with sea salt or organic sugar for texture. Toss a few tomatoes in the blender (a great way to dispose of those less-than-perfect ones that sometimes arise in late summer!), sprinkle in some sea salt, and carry the mixture into the shower with you. It's a great invigorating body scrub!

Cream the flesh of an avocado, then add just a dollop of olive oil to hold it all togetherCucumbers have long been recognized for their cool, soothing properties, and you should use them freely on your skin. Cut slices to put over your eyes, of course, but also peel the cuke, then pulverize it in the blender for a soothing face mask. Keep it on about 10 minutes, then wash off. Your skin will feel pleasantly refreshed!

Should you be lucky enough to grow avocadoes, you have a homemade wrinkle cream just waiting to be applied! Avocado is rich in vitamin E, which has great healing properties for skin (it is often applied to scars). Cream the flesh of an avocado, then add just a dollop of olive oil to hold it all together. Smooth it gently over those laugh lines and crow's feet, and leave in place for about 10 minutes before washing off. Mmmm — the heavenly smell is another benefit!

What other beauty aids can you make from your vegetable and herb garden? When you start to think about dream pillows and infusions, the list seems endless! Have fun and save money by staying beautiful through gardening!

And the Winner is.... -- Write a Review on ParkSeed.com!

We received dozens of reviews over the past month, and we can't thank you enough for giving us such great feedback on your favorite products! The winner was chosen at random to receive a $25 Park Seed Gift Certificate. Congratulations to Morton B. of Kentucky — below is the review he submitted.

Lisianthus 'Cinderella Pink' Pink Lisianthus A Great Addition
I try find something new every year and am very happy with the pink Lisianthus. We have many visitors on campus and this is the flower the gardening ladies wanted to know all about. It's gorgeous! I will want to see how well it makes it over winter and into next year to verify its permanent status, but I am definitely going to try the other colors too this coming spring. The plants had no pests at all and took the heat and dry spells well. One word of advice — if you plant them in a spot that gets one half day of light, the flowers will lean toward the light, so plant them to be seen from the full sun side. — Morton B. of Kentucky

Once again, thank you for the overwhelming response! Even though our contest has ended, keep those reviews coming — your opinions help other gardeners to decide which items they want for their own garden.

December Dates to Remember - Mark Your Calendars!

December 7National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day — Let's honor those lost and injured that day, and show all of our veterans how much we appreciate the sacrifices they, and their families, have made for us!

December 12National Poinsettia Day — You know Christmas is just around the corner when you start seeing these gorgeous plants appear in markets!

December 20-28Hanukkah — Also known as the Festival of Lights, this eight-day Jewish holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

December 22Winter Solstice (first day of Winter) — Ah, there's something magical in the very words "Winter Solstice". Makes me think of ice and bonfires and the Northern Lights, for some reason. It's during the shortest day or the longest night of the year. And it's a great time for stargazing, in my experience!

December 25Christmas Day — The ultimate day of celebration for Christians around the world, as well as for those that simply want to honor those they love and share a spirit of giving and selflessness.

December 26-January 1 Kwanzaa — This week-long celebration honoring African heritage was created by Maulana Karenga as a means of helping African Americans reconnect with their African culture and heritage.

December 31New Year's Eve — Tomorrow starts another year! Another chance to start diets, start exercising, quit smoking, or maybe even resolve to tend to that neglected spot in your garden! Happy New Year!