For 75 years, All-America Selections’ (AAS) red, white and blue logo has represented a promise of gardening success. This familiar emblem can be found on seed packets, plant tags and pots, in catalogs and a variety of printed and online publications reaching millions of consumers every day.
AAS was planted in 1932 by W. Ray Hastings, who was president of the Southern Seedsmen’s Association in Atlanta, Ga. His vision was to provide a way for home gardeners to learn which new varieties are truly improved.
Before AAS, in the 1920s and 30s, consumer magazine editors knew little about new garden varieties and had few resources to obtain reliable information. The garden club movement was in its infancy and needed material. Home, farm, seed and florist magazines were hungry for garden news.
Planting The Seeds
The AAS network began when Hastings encouraged seed companies and universities to set up trial grounds to cooperatively test new varieties and develop marketing efforts for new vegetables and flowers. He recommended a national network of trial grounds throughout North American climates where flower and vegetable varieties would be grown and assessed by skilled, impartial judges. The seed trials would accept only new, previously unsold varieties.
While initial funding came from the Southern Seedsmen’s Association and the American Seed Trade Association, it wasn’t long before other sectional, state and Canadian seedsmen’s associations voluntarily gave their endorsements or sponsorships.
AAS was founded in 1932 and the first AAS Winners were announced a year later, after the results were tabulated from the first trial. AAS Winners have been introduced each year since 1933. In 1934, there were 30 AAS award-winning new varieties introduced, a record number. AAS trials have been conducted every year since 1932. The number of judges and sites may vary, but the trials are conducted each year.
In 1984, the AAS board of directors decided to simplify the award system and award only two types. There is an AAS Gold Medal award reserved for a breeding breakthrough. Gold Medal Awards have been rare, only given once or twice a decade. The other AAS Award recognizes a flower or vegetable of significant achievements, proven to be superior to all others on the market.
AAS also recognizes the people behind the varieties with two honors for lifetime achievements. The Medallion of Honor is given to a person who contributes to the advancement of horticulture or the garden seed industry in an exceptional manner. The AAS Breeders’ Cup recognizes a breeder who has introduced significantly improved cultivars, AAS Winners, or varieties that have impacted the course of the home garden seed industry.
Behind The Scenes
The AAS organization is governed by two groups: the board of directors and a council of judges. The council of judges elects the board of directors and together they establish AAS policies and guide the professional staff. The executive director supervises the trial, display and promotional programs for AAS winners. Seed producers of AAS winners support the program through royalty payments.
The process begins each summer, when judges evaluate unnamed new varieties against comparisons at nearly 50 trial grounds throughout the United States and Canada. Judges score each entry on a scale of 0 to 5 and report their scores in the fall.
What qualities do the judges score? They look for significantly improved qualities such as earliness to bloom or harvest, disease or pest tolerance, novel colors or flavors, novel flower forms, total yield, length of flowering or harvest and overall performance. In the last 10 years, an entry needs to have at least two significantly improved qualities to be considered by judges for an AAS Award.
An independent accounting firm calculates the average score for each entry. Only entries with the highest average scores are considered for a possible AAS Award. Within three years, the plant breeder or contracted seed company must be able to produce enough seed to supply the flower or vegetable seeds to the public. In addition to seed packet sales, most of today’s AAS Winners reach consumers as plants grown by growers. In recent years, these plants have gotten a point-of-sale push as a premium program at Wal-Mart.
Power Of Promotion
Five audiences are targeted for promotion — the seed industry, bedding plant and nursery growers, retailers, garden media and consumers. AAS does not advertise the AAS Award Winners. It relies on a public relations program to inform gardeners about AAS Winners that are announced each March to the trade. The consumer wave follows in September, when the winners are announced to 7,500 garden media contacts, who look forward to and plan on announcing the AAS Winners each year.
These include consumer magazines, newspapers, garden club bulletins and cooperative Extension agents, which are depended upon to introduce AAS Winners to home gardeners. It’s not unheard of for AAS to generate more than 300 million media impressions valued at more than $2.5 million, if conducted through advertising.
In addition to reading about AAS Winners in local newspapers and favorite magazines, consumers can see the winning varieties in their full glory at more than 200 display gardens and trial grounds.
A Model For Others
AAS proved to be so successful in creating greater interest in improved flowers and vegetables that it served as a model for other programs, including All-America Rose Selections, All-America Gladiolus Selections and Fleuroselect in Europe.
Today, AAS is led by Nona Wolfram-Koivula, who has served as executive director for 23 years. The office is in Downers Grove, Ill., where she also manages the National Garden Bureau. She also is past president of the Garden Writers Association and its foundation, which funds Plant A Row For The Hungry.