Gold Medal Plants for 2008: Among the best for the home garden

Each year, the Georgia Plant Selections Committee, an organization composed of plant professionals throughout the state, chooses certain plants to be "Gold Medal Plants." The committee has the goal "to promote the production, sale and use of superior ornamental plants" and committee members nominate a long list of plants to be considered.

The classes of plants selected are annuals, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees; the plants chosen must meet certain criteria and possess certain marketable characteristics appealing to consumers. The plants need to be low maintenance with minimal pests and be well adapted to the various climates and soil types of Georgia.

Another factor is the ease of propagation and production to mass market the plants. Consideration is also given to the plant having appealing characteristics that last more than one season.

This year's Gold Medal Plants are:

Annual: The Amazon Dianthus series (Dianthus barbatus 'Series'). These are cool season annuals that are best planted in the fall. They are great to plant along with other cool weather annuals such as pansies, parsley, ornamental cabbage and kale.

They have strong stems and can grow several feet tall. The plants are best grown in full sun and well drained soil, and benefit from the addition of organic matter such as compost or peat moss. They also grow in containers.

Herbaceous perennial: The Rozanne cranesbill hardy geranium (Geranium 'Rozanne'). It holds up under the intense heat and dry conditions in our area. It grows to 18 to 20 inches in a rounded mass. It produces flowers continuously from May until frost if the old blooms are removed.

The flowers grow to 2 inches and blue-violet and have pale centers. The plant prefers full sun and well drained soil with organic soil amendments.

Evergreen vine: The Pride of Augusta Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium Caroliniana 'Pride of Augusta'). This type of Carolina Jessamine is a double-flowering form with bright flowers one inch in diameter. It blooms from February to April, depending on the location and temperatures. The length of its peak blooming time is two weeks.

It grows 10 to 20 feet and does not have an invasive habit. It needs support for its climbing habit. The plant can be grown on arbors and trellises and can cascade over large containers or walls.

Deciduous shrub: The paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). It has heavily scented flowers in the middle of the winter. The flower buds are silvery in appearance, turning white as they expand. The flowers are creamy yellow in color. The shrub grows 4 to 6 feet tall. The summer foliage is 4 to 6 inches long and is bluish green on top and silvery on the bottom. It prefers part shade and moist, well-drained soils with organic matter amended to it.

Tree: The American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). The tree is adaptable to many growing conditions and is a native tree. It grows along flood plains but also in dry, upland areas. It is an excellent alternative to the Bradford pear.

It has a broad, oval shape and can reach 40 feet when mature. The tree has also been referred to as "ironwood" since its wood is dense, hard and very strong. The plant requires minimal maintenance and is easy to grow.

For more information on the 2008 winners and those from previous years, go to www.georgiagoldmedal.org.

Timothy Daly is an Gwinnett County Extension Agent. E-mail him at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.