Every year since 1994 Georgia’s State Botanical Garden announces its picks for the year’s list of Georgia Gold Medal Plants. The judges include staff from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia; the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension; University of Georgia faculty members; and nurserymen, flower growers, garden retailers and landscape professionals across the state. It’s just my opinion, but you’re not going to find a better bunch of plant judges that that.
Their selections come in five categories: annuals, perennials, natives, trees and shrubs/vines/ground covers. What I like about their selections are that they are chosen not just for their looks, but also with consideration of what will grow best in Georgia and best fit into our landscapes and gardens. This is truly a practical approach that takes consumers’ interests to heart.
The decisions for 2016 have been made and here are the winners.
• Annuals: Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) This plant has wondrously variegated metallic sheened leaves with purple tones. It is striking in any garden or container. It handles our heat and tolerates drought. Even if wilted it will come back quickly when watered. This is a tropical plant and will not last outdoors over our winters. But it is worth bringing inside come fall or at least taking cuttings to pot so that you will have multiple plants to put out next spring.
• Natives: Native Azaleas There are 12 species of native azaleas that are available for planting. They comes in colors from white and yellows to reds, oranges and pinks. They range in height from 3 feet to 15 feet. Azaleas will bloom from early spring to mid-summer depending on the species. They are great for pollinators such as bees and butterflies too.
• Perennials: Pineapple Lily (Eucomis ssp.) This a plant with big strappy leaves and large flower blooms that will be great in any garden. This plant can be clustered into a groundcover or planted into a container plant. Usually it is perennial to Zone 8, and will have to be overwintered indoors or treated as an annual in our cooler Zone 7 area. It is considered deer resistant.
• Shrub: Distylium (Distylium) This glossy-leaved evergreen shrub grows from 3 to 15 feet. It is extremely hardy and easily resists drought, heat and wet feet problems. It is also disease resistant. Deer might munch a bit, but it is not a preferred plant for deer. Flowers are inconspicuous.
• Tree: Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) I used to have a nice Black gum next to my house, but it got badly damaged in a wind storm and I had to have it removed. I miss it. It is one of the last trees to leaf-out in the spring and last to drop their bright red fall leaves in November. This is a mid-size tree topping out at about 50 feet at full maturity. It attracts bees and birds with its flowers and seed. It is also drought tolerant.
If you are planning any new plants, shrubs or trees this year you would do well to consider these Gold Medal Selection. You can see more about these suggestions, including pictures, at georgiagoldmedalplants.org
Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 35 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.