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New plants on the block

Nurseries and seed companies unveil improved varieties of everything

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The most beautiful, productive gardens are cultivated in January - in our dreams.

That's when gardeners, huddled in sweaters and wool socks, leaf through a dizzying array of seed catalogs - from those that offer only the most up-to-date hybrids to ones specializing in seeds that your grandparents probably grew (see page 14).

Much more than a mere laundry list of plants, garden catalogs are filled with photographs of fabulous flowers and glorious gardens, accompanied by such beguiling descriptions that you want to order one of everything.

This is the year, catalogs seem to promise, that your garden will be picture-perfect: Flea beetles will leave your eggplant alone and that scraggly row of zinnias will be transformed into a mildewless carpet of color.

As we shiver and turn up the thermostat, we recognize the realities of gardening - that an overabundance of rainfall may drown young salad greens or drought might shrivel succulent hostas.

But it doesn't matter. Under the influence of exciting new plants, we are certain that this year our garden will be just like those in the catalogs.

And maybe, thanks to a palette of new plants, it really will.

We asked experts to discuss what's happening in gardening this year. They also describe what they consider the outstanding new annuals, perennials, vegetables, roses, and shrubs for 2000, the ones they think will be successes in your yard - wherever you live.

All-America winners

To ensure that plants that win the coveted All-America Selections (AAS) award will thrive in all climates, they are grown in numerous independent locations in the US and Canada for at least two years, says Nona Koivula, AAS director. And they're judged against the current top sellers in their categories.

Five flowers and four vegetables triumphed for 2000. The annuals "are heat-tolerant and quite adaptable to soil types and climates across North America," says Ms. Koivula, who adds that the judges commented on the excellent flavor of all the vegetables.

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