Announcement of the Whimsical Winners of the 2023 AAS Display Garden Landscape Design Challenge

DOWNERS GROVE, IL – All-America Selections is pleased to announce the winners of their 2023 Landscape Design Challenge. This year’s theme of “A Whimsical Garden” was, in the beginning, one that created some cautious interest and more than one online search to see what could be done with such an unusual theme.

But the AAS Display Gardens came through again in a big way!

The AAS Display Gardens were tasked with using their AAS Winning flowers and plants in and around a theme of “A Whimsical Garden!” and each garden staff came up with a wide variety of ways to showcase their own garden’s whimsy in and among their AAS Winners!

For the challenge, AAS provided the gardens with recent AAS Winner seeds and plants along with variety markers that for the first time, included a QR code that sends users to the AAS website for that variety.

The gardens had the option to also incorporate older AAS Winners in their design to illustrate the theme. Gardens were encouraged to generate publicity and hold events to share the story of All-America Selections and AAS Winners.

Gardens are divided into three categories based on the number of visitors per year:

Category I: fewer than 10,000 visitors per year

Category II: 10,001 – 100,000 visitors per year

Category III: Over 100,000 visitors per year

All-America Selections recognizes and thanks the contest judges who are industry experts in the field of horticulture and landscaping:

  • Helen Battersby, Garden Writer/Speaker & GardenComm director, international region. 
  • Ron Cramer, Retired, Sakata Ornamentals and AAS Former President
  • Barbara Wise, Sales and Marketing Manager, Crescent Garden

AAS is proud to announce the following winning gardens from the 2023 Design Challenge:

Category I: Under 10,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner: Mississippi State Univ-South Mississippi Branch Experiment Station, Poplarville, Mississippi

The AAS Display Garden at Mississippi State University’s South Miss Branch Experiment Station is a whimsical garden with a bridge, gazebo, and ornamental hardscape features. The garden features 24 ornamental and 10 vegetable AAS-winning varieties. Visitors can enjoy the flow of the color palette as they walk through the garden, starting with reds and pinks at the entryway and leading to blues, purples, and whites on the other side. After brainstorming, the garden staff agreed that a wacky, silly, odd, and overall fun approach would be the way to go to interpret this year’s theme. Going back to the 16th-century origin of the word ‘whimsical’, they learned that it started with ‘whim-wham’; a noun meant to describe an ornamental object or trinket. This “whim-wham” approach led to the integration of many ornamental hardscape features, such as a small bridge over a dry creek bed and a gazebo used to showcase AAS Winners in hanging planters and traditional garden plantings. Garden visitors enjoyed the whimsical theme and all the fun “stuff” to find in the garden. One visitor described it as a “non-stop, visually eye-catching array of whimsical features that transport you to a place where worries are carried away on the backs of fairies, gnomes, and porcelain frogs!”

Second Place Winner (a three-way tie!): 

Third Place Winner:

Honorable Mention Winners:

Category II: 10,001 – 100,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner: Noelridge Park Gardens, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The Shoe-Bee-Dew! A Whimsical Garden Walk at Noelridge Park was inspired by a desire to include the public in every step along the way. The park invited the public to donate used shoes, which were then planted with AAS Winners and other plants chosen based on their look or name. A meandering path was created through the garden, allowing visitors to get close enough to see the special surprises tucked here and there, read plant tags, and identify which local celebrity’s shoes were on display. For instance, they planted fireman’s boots with Red Ember Cayenne Pepper, and winter boots with Icicle Eggplant. Local Pop Star singer/songwriter Alisabeth Von Presley’s sparkly pink sandals were potted with Sweetie Pie Pepper, surrounded by Kelos Candela Pink Celosia and a ring of Main Street Beale Street Coleus, in a nod to her Memphis ties. They planted tall Concert Bell sunflowers in (or through, actually) the clown shoes. The Hawkeye football shoes were surrounded by flowers using team colors black and gold – Gold Rush Gloriosa Daisy and Big Duck Gold Marigold.

On the evening of the garden walk, the public enjoyed a beautiful evening in the park. Many pictures were taken, and volunteers were on hand to answer questions and talk about the AAS varieties. Volunteers assisted kids who were invited to plant in a shoe they contributed. These were added to the planted tire caterpillar, which carried the Shoe-Bee-Dew! theme over to the nearby children’s garden. The Shoe-Bee-Dew! A Whimsical Garden Walk was a success, with positive feedback from social media efforts showing that all the efforts paid off.

Second Place Winner:

Third Place Winner:

Honorable Mention:

Category III: over 100,000 visitors per year

First Place Winner:

Toledo Botanical Garden created a whimsical garden called Whimsi-land, where visitors enter through a copper archway featuring a moon and stars display. A walk along the path lined with brightly colored flowers leads to a pool where one might catch a glimpse of the topiary water dragon, Finnegan. Visitors loved Finnegan and the garden’s other unique features.

Inspired by the Juneau, Alaska botanical garden, Toledo Botanical Garden staff flipped three downed trees upside down to create planters. The root flares of the trees were filled with flowering annuals, including AAS winners.  The Toledo Botanical Garden staff had so much fun creating this new garden space for 2023 and was able to bring new life and foot traffic to a less frequently visited location in the garden. The positive reaction from the public was more than anyone could have hoped for. Staffers were constantly stopped by visitors who wanted to pass along their appreciation of the AAS display. The garden was also featured on the local news and social media.

Second Place Winner:

Third Place Winner:

Honorable Mention:

A complete collection of photos of all contest entrants can be found on the All-America Selections website.

For more information about the contest winners or how to participate in 2024, contact Diane Blazek, All-America Selections.