Debbie Arrington

How will gardeners remember 2017?

The award-winning Mad Hatter pepper has a unique look as well as excellent sweet-hot flavor.
The award-winning Mad Hatter pepper has a unique look as well as excellent sweet-hot flavor. Sacramento Bee

White sunflowers and super zucchini, “chocolate” cherry tomatoes and hat-shaped peppers, fast-growing microgreens and crazy colored camellias; that was the garden year that was.

What will we gardeners remember about 2017? In Sacramento, it was full of challenges. So much rain after years of drought, then ill-timed heat spikes killed many a seedling or caused usually reliable vegetables to fail. But the plants that survived – and thrived – through these unusual conditions impressed and earned future spots in our garden beds.

As we close the notebook on another year, we gardeners can look back and evaluate our personal results. Not everything worked out as planned; for example, three of my trial tomato plants bore a total of four tomatoes. Four of my test blueberry bushes succumbed to triple-digit heat.

But others made up for those duds. My faith in Early Girl tomatoes as the go-to Sacramento producer was once again renewed. (I harvested ripe fruit before July Fourth and during Christmas week from the same vine, with many tomatoes in between.) A volunteer tomatillo plant provided enough salsa verde for scores of enchiladas. Indoors (and under lights), baby chard and other microgreens grew into almost-instant salads, proving that tiny veggies can offer super-quick returns.

Blue Frills stokesia – a large, intensely blue aster cousin introduced by Must Have Perennials – was my surprise garden star. It seemed to be always in bloom from June to November. Another knockout was totally unexpected; a huge tree mallow – a Mediterranean cousin of hibiscus and hollyhock – sprouted out of nowhere in my vegetable bed, much to the delight of bees.

Several new introductions caught the eye (or tempted tastebuds). Woodland’s Mr. Sunflower – hybridizer Tom Heaton – got us excited about the first pure white sunflowers (his trademarked ProCut White Nite and ProCut White Lite), which will be coming to market soon. Meanwhile, Tom Nuccio of Nuccio’s Nurseries showed us how old-fashioned camellias can be new and exciting garden shrubs.

At the national vegetable seed trials in Yolo County, Chocolate Sprinkles – a brown-striped cherry tomato – was the pick of the patch for its attractive appearance and flavor. PanAmerican Seed’s Midnight Snack, a 2017 All-America Selection, demonstrated that dark purple tomatoes can taste as good as they look. Another 2017 All-America Selection, cap-shaped Mad Hatter, created a whole new look for hot-sweet peppers.

Dale Creasey’s accidental hybrid zucchini reminded us that gardeners like to grow new things – even giant zucchini! – and share it with others, including those in need. The Fair Oaks retiree has had more than 500 requests for his high-yielding, fast-growing zucchini seed.

Will 2018 be boom or bust, drought or deluge? That’s yet to come. But I know I can’t wait to dig in and plant something new.