By Emily Murphy, author of Grow What You Love and passthepistil.com
All-America Selections (AAS) has organized a host of display gardens across North America from which we can all learn and discover the plants bringing gardeners the greatest success.
Founded in 1932, AAS is the first and only independent, non-profit organization testing plants before they emerge on the market. Founder W. Ray Hastings was the president of the Southern Seedsmen’s Association of Atlanta, Georgia at the time. He realized that magazines and garden clubs were having trouble sourcing reliable information about new garden varieties and so too were home gardeners. So, Hastings suggested a test program, recommending a system of trial gardens across North America spanning a range of climates.
Seed companies were encouraged to develop and grow new and improved varieties that would then be grown and tested by AAS judges. What started out as 10 trial gardens has now grown to over 40 in 24 states and 5 Canadian provinces.
Today we can see some of the many plant trial winners, or AAS Winners, in AAS display gardens located throughout the United States and Canada.
What’s an AAS Winner?
An AAS winner is “like the Good House Keeping Seal of Approval,” says AAS Executive Director, Diane Blazek. Blazek went on to say, “professional horticulturists have tested these plants next to other, very popular varieties on the market. It’s the winners that have proven themselves to be great performers.”
National and regional AAS Winners are grown and tested in trial gardens by horticultural experts and each variety is judged for its disease resistance, productivity, and, in the case of vegetables, flavor. With ornamentals, judges consider disease resistance along with criteria such as how early a particular variety sets flowers, length of bloom time, profusion of blooms, unique qualities such as flower color, and how plants hold up to heat and other environmental conditions. Basically, “the proof is in the plant,” noted Blazek.
Blazek and her team have also created an AAS profile on and it’s possible to find AAS Winners on social media using the hashtags #AASWinners and #AASWinnersForDinner. A full list of AAS winners can be found on the All-America Selections website.
Spreading Awareness Through Display Gardens
This is where the fun begins. It’s in the AAS Display Gardens that we can see AAS Winners in action.
There are nearly 200 AAS Display Gardens throughout the United States and Canada with the first flagship garden, Norseco, Inc., breaking ground in Quebec, Canada in 1962. These gardens are a source of inspiration for gardeners and horticulturists alike.
AAS Display Gardens are independent and form unique partnerships with All-America Selections. Display gardens can be found throughout North America within existing botanic gardens, arboreta, university gardens and more.
While there’s a long list of criteria for gardens interested in becoming an official AAS Display Garden, such as significant visitor traffic and forming a long-term commitment with AAS, it comes down to an interest and willingness to communicate the AAS message and provide community outreach and education.
Discover an incredible range of unique and informative planting designs within each display garden. See how gardeners are pairing ornamentals and edibles, learn new ways to combine plants for qualities such as color and bloom time, and find fresh inspiration for unique climates and growing conditions — and learn which plants are the best of the best!
Plantsmap.com is excited to work with and support All-America Selections (AAS) by inviting AAS Display Gardens to connect on Plants Map and develop their educational outreach efforts together.
All-America Selections Display Garden Design Challenge
Design Challenge? Yes!
We saw the first AAS Design Challenge in 2013 and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. It’s open to participating AAS Display Gardens interested in testing their skills and finding new, innovative ways to combine AAS Winners announced in the past five years with the option of including winners since the inception of All-America Selections.
A new design challenge theme is selected each year. Geometry in the Gardenwas the theme in 2016 and in 2017 the theme was Foodscaping-Interspersing Edible with Ornamentals. The theme acts as a basic, open-ended guide and in reality, the sky’s the limit.
“It’s so cool to see how some of the display gardens take the idea and make it work, coming up with really neat ideas,” said Blazek.
When you see a sign like the one above in a participating AAS Design Challenge Display Garden look for a “selfie station” or photo worthy display. It could be the perfect place to snap a picture is under an arch flourishing with Petunia Evening Scentsation F1 like the one you’ll find at the Montreal Botanical Garden below. And remember to use #AASWinners!
Follow AAS Winners and connect AAS Display Gardens on.
Follow and connect with Emily Murphy on Plants Map at plantsmap.com/organizations/passthepistil