For the second year in a row, a well-tended plot on the northern edge of the Indiana State Fairgrounds has won first place in a gardening contest.
The Purdue Extension-Marion County All-America Selections Display Garden garnered the top award for the 10,000 to 100,000 visitors-per-year category in 2018.
Founded in 1932, All-America Selections or AAS, is a not-for-profit made up of representatives of seed and plant breeders, horticulturists and marketers, with the goal of encouraging people to garden. AAS plants are trialed throughout the country and the winners are deemed better than similar plants already on the market. Award winners may produce larger zinnia flowers or more green beans, for instance, or the plants may have improved disease resistance. The garden in Indianapolis displays current and past AAS award winning annuals, vegetables, herbs or perennials.
This year’s theme was Get Social. The Indianapolis display garden encouraged visitors to take photos and post them on social media. The garden added seating areas, such as benches and small tables, where visitors could relax and enjoy the scene. Several of these areas were framed with beautiful flower displays to encourage picture taking. They also posted signs with the hashtag #AASWinners throughout the garden.
The garden is managed by horticulturist and extension educator Steve Mayer and Master Gardeners. It started in 2012 and is just east of the Department of Natural Resources exhibit. Each year, the garden is redesigned to include new offerings. In winter, AAS sends seeds or plants, which are grown locally to the right size for planting in spring.
“The Purdue garden demonstrated what can be accomplished when a volunteer group works well together,” said Diane Blazek, executive director of AAS. “The AAS winning plants were well cared for and planted in visually pleasing arrangements, which created a relaxing spot for garden visitors. Our judges also gave top scores for creativity, which helped push Purdue to first place.”
One of those volunteers is Cindy Monnier, who has been a Master Gardener since 2014. She is the record keeper for the garden, which this year had 36 beds of plants identified..
“I keep track each work day of the specific plants we put in, and into which bed they go, then enter this information, including planting date and scientific name, into a spreadsheet, along with estimated harvest dates for each veggie,” she said. In 2018, the garden had about 90 AAS varieties, including nearly 50 different vegetables and herbs.
Volunteers harvest the vegetables and herbs, weigh the produce and donate it to food pantries. In 2017, Monnier said about 900 pounds were donated, and this year, donations are going to be close to 1,000 pounds.
The garden is open to the public during the summer. Tell people at the entryways that you’re there to see Purdue’s AAS Display Garden, and you should be allowed to proceed. Of course, the garden is part of the Indiana State Fair. This year, 11,079 visitors toured the garden during the fair’s 17 days.