Exceptional Plants Named PHS Gold Medal Winners

Acer japonicum Aconitifolium Wave Hill 5-6-12_LS (2)

Fernleaf Full Moon Maple is a dwarf tree with delicate, fern-like foliage. The leaves turn brilliant crimson red in the fall.

By Marion McParland

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal Plant Award program honors little-known and underused plants of exceptional merit. Awards have been given to 138 plants since this program began in 1979.

This year’s winners include two trees, one shrub, and five perennials:

Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (Fernleaf Full Moon Maple) grows 8 to 10 feet tall. One of the best small trees for a garden accent, this tree can also be planted in groups as part of a low-growing shrub border or screen.  This tree is easily grown in average, well-drained soils and is relatively disease free.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis Pendula 10-14-14_LS (1)

Weeping Alaska cedar grows 20 to 35 feet tall. Widely spaced branches feature blue-green needles.

Xanthocyparis (syn. Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (Weeping Alaska cedar) is an evergreen that grows 20 to 35 feet tall. This long-lived weeping conifer is native to the Northwestern United States and Canada, but makes a great addition to gardens along the East Coast. This conifer thrives in regions with high humidity and rainfall.

Mahonia japonica (Leatherleaf mahonia) grows to be a medium-sized shrub with glossy, pinnately compound leaves similar to holly. This evergreen grows 5 to 7 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide. It is great for woodland gardens, shrub borders, or as a privacy hedge. It is best to plant this shrub in areas protected from strong winds and to plant more than one shrub in an area for great berry production.

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ (Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle)
dazzles with its lush foliage and coral-red flowers from late spring through the entire summer. The flowers attract a variety of wildlife, including hummingbirds and butterflies. This extremely disease-resistant vine stays green even during drought conditions. This vine is  deer resistant and will climb 8 to 15 feet.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Variegated Solomon’s Seal) is a shade-loving perennial that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and slowly spreads through an area via underground rhizomes.  In late spring, small bell-shaped flowers with a lily-like fragrance emerge on the underside of the stem. In the fall, flowers give way to black berries and leaves turn a dazzling bright yellow. Solomon’s Seal does best in cool climates.

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (Dark-leaved Bugbane) features dark, deeply lobed foliage that grows in large clumps each spring. Flowers are numerous and white. This plant is great for a shade garden or perennial border, and does best when planted in groups.

Rudbeckia maxima 7-9-14_LS (2)

The Great Coneflower is a show-stopper with its lush blue-green basal foliage, central brown cone and surrounding slightly arching yellow rays.

Rudbeckia maxima (Great Coneflower) is a show-stopper with its lush blue-green basal foliage. In spring, 5- to 7-foot-tall flower stalks emerge and reach skyward. Flower stalks are topped with a large, central brown cone surrounded by slightly arching yellow rays. Goldfinches and sparrows are some of the many small birds drawn to the Great Coneflower.

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (Northwind Switchgrass) is an outstanding selection of the native switchgrass with 5- to 7-foot-tall, upright, olive-green foliage that stands out as a vertical accent in any garden. This native perennial is deer resistant, disease-free and tolerant of salty soils.

A complete list of Gold Medal winning plants can be found here. Photos of this year’s winners can be found here. Select Gold Medal plants can be purchased at PHS Meadowbrook Farm in Abington Township.

For additional information on Gold Medal plants, please feel free to contact PHS at 215.988.8800 or email goldmedal@pennhort.org


Lonicera sempervirens Major Wheeler 5-5-10_LS (1)

Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle dazzles with its coral-red flowers and lush foliage from late spring through the entire summer.


PHS Gold Medal Winners Announced at 2013 Flower Show

The outstanding plants and products that have earned recognition as PHS Gold Medal winners were announced February  28 and exhibited at the 2013 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. Visitors to the Show were able to learn about the habits of each of these cultivars and make plans to include them in their own landscapes.

For more than 30 years, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has honored and promoted plants of exceptional merit through the PHS Gold Medal program. Nominations come from home gardeners, designers, horticulturists, landscape architects, growers and owners of nurseries–anyone who loves trees, shrubs and vines.

The winners are chosen for their beauty, performance, and hardiness in the growing region of Zones 6-7 (covering the region from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, and from New York to Washington, D.C). When gardeners acquire a Gold Medal winner, they can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence for hardiness, disease and pest resistance, and ease of growing when planted and maintained as recommended.

The Gold Medal plants and products will be available for purchase at the PHS Store at the Flower Show, and at PHS Meadowbrook Farm in Abington Township, PA, this spring.

The winning plants are:

goldmedalhinokiHinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’
‘Nana Gracilis’ isn’t a new cultivar, but it is sorely under-used compared to dwarf Alberta spruce, which is the dwarf, pyramidal conifer that gets planted in so many housing developments. ‘Nana Gracilis’ grows upright and slowly like dwarf Alberta spruce, but it is much more bug-resistant.

Blue Velvet St. John’s Wort – Hypericum ‘Blue Velvet’ 
The carefree nature of St.John’s Wort is well known, but ‘Blue Velvet’ stands above the rest for distinctive blue foliage and extended flowering period with buttery-yellow blooms. In addition to being widely adaptable in full sun or part shade, it is a hybrid with native parentage that provides a bonus for naturalistic landscapes. With members of the St. John’s Wort genus being medicinal herbs, ‘Blue Velvet’ should continue to remain unpalatable to deer and a highlight in the landscape.

Black Tupelo Tree Nyssa sylvatica ‘Wildfire’      
‘Wildfire’ Black Tupelo has spectacular red-tipped new growth into summer, and it is one of the goldmedalblackgummost stunning autumn foliage choices.  It is the perfect companion for maples’ fall color. Its small black fruits make this tree an amazing native selection for wildlife interest. 

Dwarf Highbush Blueberry  Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Sunshine Blue’

This is an elite selection that is the epitome of what the PHS Gold Medal represents: seasonal interest, durably growing, and a reward to have in the garden. It can be used goldmedalhighbushas an ornamental shrub in the landscape, has fruit-bearing blueberry selection that is complemented by its blue foliage, and is a worthy choice for use as a hedge in the garden with its uniform habit of growth.

Superior products

The Gold Medal program has been expanded this year to include superb horticultural products and a mobile application that serves as an excellent electronic tool for gardeners. A PHS Gold Medal Product must have a leading role in the competitive landscape through novel features, outstanding value for the price, notable ease of use, attractive aesthetic, and a demonstrable boost to the customer’s productivity.

The winners are:

Lesche Digging Tool
This is the best and last digging tool you will ever need for your garden. Lesche Digging Tools are made in the U.S. with a blade that is heat-treated for great strength. These products are so strong and indestructible that they are the digging tool of choice among soliders in Iraq and were used for the World Trade Center cleanup.

Organic Mechanics
Organic Mechanics produces all-natural, sustainable soils that provide superior results. Their soils, biochar, and compost tea are 100 percent organic, made with locally sourced ingredients, completely peat-free, and used by professional gardeners at arboretums and botanical gardens including PHS Meadowbrook Farm, Longwood Gardens, Scott Arboretum, and Chanticleer.

Leaf Snap
Developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, this free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. This innovative app contains beautiful, high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark, and a user-generated map that shows where these trees can be found near you.

Gold Medal Plants with Winter Interest Featured at Longwood Gardens

hawthornSince its inception in 1978, the Gold Medal Plant Award program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has recognized trees, shrubs, and woody vines of outstanding merit. The program was originally conceived by noted nurseryman Dr. J. Franklin Styer, who realized homeowners and gardeners needed to learn about superior woody plants for their landscapes. These plants are evaluated and chosen for their superb eye-appeal, performance, and hardiness in the growing region of Zones 5-7. Many winners are hardy in a much broader geographic range.

When a gardener acquires a plant designated a Gold Medal winner, he or she can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence for pest and disease resistance, as well as ease of growing, when planted and maintained by recommended methods. Gold Medal Plants are also chosen for their beauty through many seasons, whether it be foliage, flower, form, or bark.

Gold Medal winners can be found at Longwood Gardens year round. Click here for the map of those winners that exhibit winter beauty in the garden; the list includes several varieties hollies, witch hazel, evergreens, and more. Enjoy them at their peak form now with a winter visit to Longwood!

Volunteer Spotlight: Mia Mengucci

More than a few PHS staff members claim Mia Mengucci as one of their “star” volunteers. Mia has her hand in a bit of everything at PHS, from the Flower Show to Tree Tenders to the Gold Medal Plant Award program.

A Pennsylvania-certified horticulturist, Mia began her career working in greenhouses as a teenager. She then moved on to gardening for private clients and working in garden centers. She currently works at Primex in Glenside, PA.

Mia became involved with PHS during her application to join the Pa. Landscape & Nursery Association. Part of her training included a volunteer stint at the PHS Gold Medal Plant Award booth at the Flower Show about 10 years ago. “I was the volunteer who wouldn’t go away,” she laughs. Since then Mia has returned every year to help at the Show, as well as to talk about Gold Medal plants at other events.

“The Flower Show kicks off the gardening season for me,” says Mia. “It’s like reunion week; it’s a lot of fun. But I also take very seriously my role as a PHS representative.”

Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and passionate about gardening, Mia is a graduate of the PHS Tree Tenders and Green City Teachers training programs. For the past eight years, she has been active with the West Mount Airy Tree Tenders group and leads a local Girl Scout troop in planting trees. She serves on the Tree Tenders Advisory Committee, gives lectures at the Gardener’s Studio at the Flower Show and for the PHS Gardening Series workshops, and volunteers at the PHS Kids Grow Expo.

“I love my PHS family,” Mia says.  “I can’t say enough about what PHS has done for me. I value the connection as I would value a very dear friendship—that’s why I say ‘yes’ to everything!”

PHS Announces New Batch of Gold Medal Winners

PHS has chosen four outstanding woody plants as the 2012 winners of the Gold Medal Plant Awards.

Since 1979, the Gold Medal program has honored and promoted woody plants of exceptional merit. Nominations for plants come from home gardeners, garden designers, horticulturists, landscape architects, nursery owners, propagators—just about anyone who loves trees, shrubs, and vines.

The winners are chosen for their superb eye-appeal, performance, and hardiness in the growing region of Zones 5-7. They also are judged for their beauty in many seasons, whether it be their foliage, flower, or structural form.

When home gardeners acquire a Gold Medal winner, they can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence for hardiness, disease and pest resistance, and ease of growing when planted and maintained as recommended.

The 2012 Gold Medal winners are:

Cercis canadensis The Rising Sun™ (Cercis canadensis ‘JNJ’ PPAF) is a novel addition to the native eastern redbud roundup. Small-but-showy rosy orchid flowers climb the naked branches in early spring, attracting bees and butterflies. The distinctive bark is smooth tan with a yellowish cast. Emerging heart-shaped foliage is brilliant tangerine to apricot and reputed to hold its color well into fall, surpassing other gold-leaved redbuds. Heat tolerance, drought resistance, and cold hardiness are other desirable attributes.

Cornus officinalis ‘Kintoki’ (Japanese Cornel Dogwood) produces abundant clusters of radiant yellow flowers from March through April, blooming two weeks earlier than Cornus mas. Attractive exfoliating gray, brown, and orange bark develops with age. Reddish-purple, large, cherry-like, edible berries form by September. Fifteen feet high and just as wide, it is smaller than the species and puts on a spectacular display in full sun or partial shade.

Prunus lusitanica was first described by Linnaeus in 1753. The Portugal laurel is an evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 10 to 20 feet, but trees can grow up to 50 feet tall in the wild. Allowed to grow into a respectable cherry tree, it produces a profusion of gorgeous five- to ten-inch racemes or white flowers in late May, followed by small purple-red cherries that ripen to shiny black by autumn (caution: the leaves and berries are toxic). The shiny bright green foliage on red stems gains a bluish tinge in winter.

Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Darts Duke’ is a superior selection prominent for its extra large, leathery, dark green leaves; massive 6 to 10 inch creamy-white flower heads in May; and heavy set of bright red fruit that changes to black in autumn. Growing 8 to 10 feet high with equal spread at a medium rate, this semi-evergreen shrub tolerates heavy shade or full sun and can potentially re-bloom in October if the season allows.

(Descriptions by Ilene Sternberg.)

Discover What’s Growing in the Pops Up Garden

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to visit the PHS Pops Up Garden; if not, it is open today from noon to 2 pm. Be sure to pop in!

You may be wondering how a vacant, overgrown lot becomes a bustling garden. Well, the PHS team employed a variety of techniques and faced a good deal of challenges in their efforts to transform the 32,000 square-foot site.

Along the perimeter, grasses are growing naturally to create a meadow-like environment. But within this green band, PHS’s army of gardeners and urban farmers has created horticultural magic. The focal point is Temple University’s 2011 Philadelphia International Flower Show exhibit, “écolibrium,” which we’ll describe in detail tomorrow.

In the exhibit’s planters and surrounding area, look for trees, shrubs and vines from the PHS Gold Medal Plant program—which promotes durable and attractive woody plants that thrive in Zones 5 to 7. In the main production garden, PHS grows edible crops—like tomatoes, peppers, and arugula—that will be distributed to area chefs for special dishes on their menus, with proceeds going to the City Harvest program.

At the far end of the lot, alongside the Independence Blue Cross building, look for an open area where weekly programming takes place, including lectures, demonstrations, and family-friendly presentations.

In the rear of the Pops Up site is a vast cutting garden, along with some more traditional agricultural plants. Here, visitors will find everything from corn and grains to cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, and cleome.

Take a walking tour when you visit and ask the on-site volunteers your burning gardening questions. We can’t wait to welcome you!

A Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Tree (part two)

Now that you’ve read part one of this series and discovered what species of tree you’d like to plant, it’s now time to find a garden center or nursery and select the healthiest tree possible.

There are plenty of options when sourcing your tree. Local garden centers, nurseries, big box stores, and even mail-order and online stores can provide quality trees. It is important to not just look for the cheapest option; you may save money up front, but will end up paying more in maintenance (and, possibly, buying a new tree).

Check out PHS’s very own Meadowbrook Farm for a great selection of trees suitable for your yard. The wonderful staff can assist you in choosing the right species for your property. They also have a large selection of Gold Medal Plants. A quality tree is more likely to establish quickly in the landscape, survive storms, and resist stressful conditions.  Consider the following when making your purchase.

Tree Stock Type:

Trees are generally available in one of three stocks: balled-and-burlapped (B&B), containerized, and bare root. Each stock has its pros and cons, but if you purchase a tree from a garden center, you are most likely dealing with containerized trees.

Proper Form:

If you wish to purchase a large shade tree, look for one with a single straight stem running from the roots to the tip of the tree. This is called a central leader. Trees that carry this form are less likely to break during a storm. If you are set upon getting a multi-stem tree—like a river birch, serviceberry, or redbud—it is OK for the tree to have a few stems coming from a central point at the base of the tree.

Make sure the trunk of the tree is free of wounds or scarring. Look for minimal dead branches. Also, simply look at the overall appearance of the tree; it will be fairly easy to tell if it is healthy.

Root System:

Containerized trees tend to be root-bound in the container. Nurseries continually look for ways to reduce this, but I’ve yet to see it perfected. In part three (on Friday), I will explain how to remedy this situation when you plant the tree. Make your life easier by planting a smaller stock of tree. Look for something in a pot size of #5, #7, or #15.

Pest Prevention:

Make sure your tree is free of any pest or diseases. Avoid trees with cankers or conks on the branches. Look for blotches or holes in the leaves as it could be a sign of disease or pest infestation.

Transport home:

Now that you’ve found an amazing tree, it’s time to get it home. The most important part of transporting your tree is to protect its leaves from the wind. You would be amazed by how a short drive will dry out the leaves. Bring a tarp if you plan on having the tree hang out a window or rest in the bed of a pick-up.

If you want to get into more detail about tree selection, I invite you to read this article from Dr. Edward Gilman of the University of Florida.


A Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Tree (part one)

Did you know that adding one large tree to your front yard can increase your property value by 10%? Yup, trees are a wonderful and vital part of your home landscape. In part one of this blog series, I will show you how to pick the appropriate species of tree for your property.

Step 1: Site Survey

Before you begin, ask yourself what purpose you’d like your tree to serve. Do you want a small flowering tree for ornamental value? An evergreen to serve as a screen? Or a large shade tree that will cool your house? Consider the following:

Height:  How tall will your tree eventually get?  All trees will be small when you first plant them, but some species can reach heights of 100 feet at maturity.

Canopy Width:  What is the overall spread of the tree you will plant?  If you have a large yard, you should consider a spreading tree, which can reduce your air conditioning bill by up to 30%.

Growth rate:  How long will it take your tree to reach its mature size? Some trees grow much quicker than others, but are also shorter lived and more prone to breakage.

Fruit: Do you want fruit for wildlife interest? Or are you avoiding fruit because of the potential messiness? Some trees have persistent fruits that stay attached over the winter.

Step 2: Environmental requirements

In addition to looks, you’ll want to select a tree that’s a good fit for the growing conditions at your home. Considerations include:

Hardiness Zone: What is your hardiness zone and what trees are able to thrive there?  Some trees cannot withstand harsh winters, others fare poorly in summer heat.

Shade/Sun: Some trees prefer light shade and some trees need full sun to grow. If placed in an unideal location, a tree may show signs of stress and have difficulty becoming established.

Moisture: Some species prefer wet sites and some prefer dry. Knowing this can help prevent “root rot,” which is as unpleasant as it sounds.

Soil: Some trees are salt tolerant, some prefer a high pH, and some are more tolerant of urban compacted soils than others.

Disease/Pest resistance:  Certain diseases and pests attack certain varieties of trees. For instance, an outbreak of bacterial leaf scorch is brutal for a red oak. Don’t fret though, many large universities have a cooperative extension office that can give you free guidance.

Step 3: A Trusted Resource

You know how you sometimes consult a friend before selecting a movie or buying an outfit? Let PHS be your BFF when it comes to choosing a tree.

For years PHS has appointed select trees as Gold Medal Plants. When a property owner acquires a Gold Medal winner, he or she can be assured the plant will exhibit standards of excellence and reliability. PHS Gold Medal Plants are also chosen for their beauty through many seasons.

Consider these factors when planting your tree and you will enjoy it for years to come. I’ll have more tips on Wednesday. Until then, remember what Warren Buffet once said: “Someone is sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.