On the Georgia Gold Medal winners for this year • Stephanie Hudak, gardening columnist
Each year members from the Georgia green industry come together to decide the best plants from the categories of annual, perennial, shrub, ground cover and natives. The plants have to perform well throughout the state and be easily available. And this year they picked ALL of my personal favorites so I wanted to share them with you.
Native plants have a special place in my heart – not only do they adapt well to our environment, they are also important for our birds and bees. And native grasses rank at the very top of my list. The sound their leaves make as the wind blows across them sounds like ocean waves. Now add a soft pink color and you have Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly grass). This grass starts off with green blades, followed by huge clouds of pink inflorescences in late summer. The foliage turns brown in winter but it is just as attractive in its own way; cut it back in spring before the new growth comes out and you restart the cycle. At three feet high and wide, this is a low-maintenance, sun-loving grass that pairs beautifully with conifers. But wherever you plant it, try to get either the morning or evening sun behind it – the effect is awesome. To get a good look at this Muhly grass, just visit Town Park where there are large stands of it at the Washington Street gates.
Is there any plant that speaks of the South better than a gardenia? There are many different cultivars on the market so you will be able to find one that fits your specific garden needs, but the mother plant, Gardenia jasminoides, will always be a winner. It can handle full sun to partial shade, but be sure to provide good drainage. If the upright version won’t fit in your garden bed, then consider the low growing variety ‘Radicans.’ The leaves and flowers are both smaller but the fragrance is just as bold.
Most perennials turn brown and just fade away in the fall, but you can count on Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Japanese Solomon’s Seal) to give you a beautiful show. Admittedly, Solomon’s Seal is slow to establish a large bed, but give it what it needs and you will be rewarded with a large, two-foot tall colony that spreads by rhizomes. In the spring green and white leaves gracefully arch over tiny white flowers hanging below. In the fall the bed of Solomon’s Seal takes on a golden hue. This shade lover pairs well with ferns and hostas and will brighten a dark corner.
I have to admit that I have never grown Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ as a ground cover, but that is mainly because I work with containers, where it is an ideal linear feature. This plant loves moisture so if you have a wet area that needs covering consider using it. Acorus also does very well at the edge of ponds or streams. This is a slow grower, which is good and bad. Don’t expect it to fill a pot or a bed right away, but at the same time, it won’t take over either.
I’ve saved my favorite for last. Torenia fournieri (Wishbone or Clown flower) is the ultimate low-maintenance flower and the perfect replacement for those water sucking impatiens. It comes in a variety of colors – white, pink, blue, purple, and two-tones. It grows 8-12 inches tall and spreads, spreads, spreads, but in a well-mannered way – with absolutely no deadheading required. It is a mainstay of my city containers because it does well in full shade, handles sun just as well and does not get pouty about low moisture. And, tada, it is deer resistant.
If you want to learn about Gold Medal plants for previous years, check out www.georgiagoldmedalplants.org. This program is based at our own wonderful State Botantical Gardens in Athens. How lucky are we to have such a great garden so close to home. Visit it often.
Printed in the January 24, 2013 edition.