Seed World

Celebrating Flowers, Vegetables and 100 Years

Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Garden Bureau and All-American Selections, talks about her favorite flower varieties and 100 years of the National Garden Bureau.

Seed World (SW): What are you reading?

Diane Blazek (DB): I love historical fiction and lately, anything related to WWII or set in Great Britain seem to be my go-to choices. I also try to read all the trade publications for our industry as well as all the National Garden Bureau (NGB) member catalogs and consumer publications to see where All-American Selections (AAS) and NGB are mentioned. 

SW: Favorite flower?

DB: For a cut flower, I’d say sunflowers. For annuals and perennials, it’s no surprise that it’s any of the AAS Winners. It’s so fun and interesting to be in on the process from the entry phase to the trialing phase, and then to the winner announcement. I get to brag about them being AAS Winners when visitors ask about them. And boy, do I brag!

SW: How did you begin working with the NGB and AAS?

DB: I got into the horticulture industry in 1993 via the publishing division of Ball Horticultural Company. I worked there for 15 years, then left the industry to broaden my skill set by running a PR firm in downtown Chicago. About a year later, the executive director position at NGB/AAS opened up, so I jumped on the opportunity to get back to the industry that is so near and dear to me. 

SW: Can you give us insight as to how NGB picks their “Year of” plants?

DB: Our members actually pick the “Year of” classes. We start by amassing a list of potential plant classes put together by our office staff and board of directors. We then create a survey that is sent to our members asking them to select their choices. We pick 3-5 years at a time based on popularity, new breeding, availability and how easy it is for a home gardener to grow. Sometime we pick a class that we have to change at the last minute, but for the most part, we do know at least three years out what the future featured crops will be. 

SW: I’ve heard 2020 is a big year for the NGB! 

DB: It is! We are celebrating our 100th Anniversary in 2020. It’s a big deal for a small non-profit to reach that milestone. We are celebrating by using this opportunity to take a look forward. 

SW: In celebration of NGB’s 100 years, what’s your top priority for 2020?

DB: More growth! NGB is one of the oldest but fastest growing organizations in the industry, which is a great place to be. What we are doing for our members and for gardening as a whole is extremely beneficial. We’ve tripled our membership during the past nine years, plus we’ve created an impressive online community that is growing every day. We are working hard to increase our impact and visibility, which means everyone benefits.