For the past 15 years the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has awarded gold medals to under-appreciated woody landscape plants. These plants offer beauty, performance, and hardiness in USDA zones 5 to 7, although many are hardy in a much broader range. The 2003 gold medal winners include two noteworthy plants in particular that gardeners may want to try in their yards this year.
Camellias hold a special place in many hearts, but northern gardeners have been frustrated with the lack of hardiness, especially on the evergreen types. Camellia japonica 'Korean Fire' is one variety that can be enjoyed by gardeners as far north as zone 6. It's considered the hardiest of the japonica species, surviving to -12° F with no injury. 'Korean Fire' is a large evergreen shrub with glossy dark-green foliage and large, flat, bright-red flowers with yellow stamens. It blooms March through May. Grow it in part sun. If protected from winter winds, it can grow to 15 feet high and 8 feet wide.
Attractive perennial vines that are easy to grow and that provide cover, flowers, and seasonal interest can be hard to find. The crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a self-clinging, evergreen vine. It features trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in June and July and dark green leaves that turn purple in winter. 'Dragon Lady' has red flowers, grows best in full sun or part shade, and is hardier and more floriferous than the species. It's hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. It can grow to 30 feet tall and wide, so prune the vine as needed. 'Dragon Lady' is drought resistant, tolerant of wet sites, and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It has no serious pest problems.
For information on all the past and present gold medal winners go to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies' Web site at www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org/GM/2003win.html