"Why and how I judge the AAS entries"

One of All-America Selections’ outstanding characteristics is that the organization relies on input from horticulture professionals as judges to determine award-winning varieties. (And of course they should–we judges know everything, right?) We, the judges, are the folks that work at, for example, university extension programs. We trial and test the beautiful plants that end up in your garden. (I’m talking about myself here…other judges work in a wide array of other horticulture fields.)

by Jessie Liebenguth

So what do we, the volunteer AAS Judges, do? Well, in the fall/winter, we excitedly look forward to the new varieties that breeding companies submit for the AAS Trials. Then, after the AAS office sends us the seeds, we germinate them, grow out the transplants, plant them in the garden then observe and evaluate the resulting plant’s performance all season-long. It’s basically an outdoor scientific experiment! Then we get to fill out these supercool, complex scoresheets that determine if that entry has the potential to become a future AAS Winner.

Those AAS award-winning varieties aren’t just for the professionals though. Sure, it’s a great way for us to see what’s new in plant breeding and guide the choices we make for future growing seasons.

Horticulture, however, is for EVERYONE (sorry I’m shouting but I really believe this)!

Gardening is a hobby that weaves creativity, science, and physical labor all together to produce incredible rewards: beautiful flowers and delicious, tasty food.


This was just one of almost 30 entries I trialed and judged last year…a potato from seed! And yes, it became AAS Winner ‘Clancy’

Yes, the AAS Judges are professionals in their field. They have applied to become a judge and were approved by the Board of Directors. Past experience in trialing is a key element in being qualified to become part of this prestigious group. Then, they become the managers of their respective AAS trial sites.

But, some of the traits a judge has to observe are subjective (like taste or color preference). That’s why I rely on the input of many to guide my scoring when submitting evaluations at the end of the growing season. I ask volunteers to be involved with every step of the process, from seeding and transplanting, tending the trial beds and even helping with the harvest. As we work together, we talk about how we don’t have to weed a petunia because of its vigor or how difficult it is to harvest a tomato because it doesn’t come cleanly off the plant. They let me know if seeds are too tiny to sow easily and share their delight at how fast some varieties sprout on the mist bench. Their comments (and critiques) are things that home gardeners would say because a lot of my volunteers ARE home gardeners, just like you!

Another reason I value our AAS trial site within a public garden is the chance to interact with the public. If I’m out in the trials, I am always on the look-out for guests to talk to about what they are seeing. My favorite way to get visitors involved is to do impromptu taste-testing, especially with kids. A big part of my passion for plants came from my mom and my grandparents involving me in their gardens from a young age and I hope that by daring a pre-teen into tasting our jalapeno trial (yes, I did!) or giving a young child a flower to smell, I can inspire a budding curiosity about the natural world in the next generation.

Want to learn more? Take some time to volunteer with an AAS Display Garden if that opportunity exists. I think you’ll find that AAS is a great organization for both plants and people!

Interested in buying AAS Winners? Check out this website and purchase AAS winners from our National Garden Bureau affiliate companies.

Jessie Liebenguth, animal lover extraordinaire, has a BS in Horticulture from Iowa State University. Her experience includes working with annuals and evaluating trial materials at Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa. She has worked extensively trialing roses at Reiman Gardens, the botanic garden of Iowa State University. Their aim is to educate the public on new and exciting developments in the world of plant genetics by including new plants in their landscape design. Jessie has been a judge for All-America Selections since 2012. She is judge for the Ornamental Seed, Perennial and Edible trials.

For more information:
All-America Selections
Diane Blazek

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