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Gold Medal Plants
PHS Announces 2015 Gold Medal Plant Winners

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has selected its 2015 winners of the PHS Gold Medal Plant awards, recognizing exceptional plants for the home gardener and professional landscaper. For a second year, PHS and its Gold Medal committee also chose hardy favorites in the perennial category.

“The Gold Medal Plant program recognizes outstanding trees, shrubs and perennials for consumers and growers. These plants and trees are chosen based on their beauty, reliability and ease of maintenance, and should be added to everyone’s ‘Most Wanted’ list,” said Drew Becher, PHS President.

The Gold Medal program has honored and promoted woody plants of outstanding merit since 1979. Nominations for plants are submitted by home gardeners, garden designers, horticulturists, landscape architects, nursery owners and propagators. 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 appropriately. Gold Medal Plants are also chosen for their beauty through many seasons, whether it be foliage, flower, form or bark.

We are presently updating and improving our database of Gold Medal-winning plants. In the meanwhile, please browse this listing of all past and present winners. Print it out and keep it handy for frequent consultation.

The 2015 PHS Gold Medal winners are:


Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (Fernleaf Full Moon Maple) is a dwarf selection with delicate, almost fern-like foliage.  It grows 8 to 10 feet tall and equally as wide. In spring, the leaves emerge green and are deeply divided into 9 to 11 lobes. Leaves turn brilliant crimson red in the fall before falling and revealing the multi-stemmed, mounded habit of the small tree for winter interest. One of the best small trees for any garden, it is best used as an accent plant in a garden, but can be planted in groups as part of a low-growing shrub border or as a screen. This tree is easily grown in average, well-drained soils and prefers dappled afternoon sun. It is relatively disease free.

Xanthocyparis (syn. Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (Weeping Alaska-cedar) is an evergreen that grows 20 to 35 feet tall and 8 to 12 feet wide. This long-lived weeping conifer is native to the Northwestern U.S. and Canada, but makes a great addition to gardens along the East Coast. A slow-growing tree with an exceptional weeping habit, the Alaska-cedar features widely spaced side branches with blue-green needles. The Alaska-cedar is a perfect specimen tree for the garden, patio or near a small pond. It grows best in average, well-drained soils, in full sun or partial shade. Like many conifers of the Pacific Northwest, it thrives in regions with high humidity and rainfall.


Mahonia japonica ‘Japanese Mahonia’ (Leatherleaf mahonia) grows to be a medium-sized shrub with glossy pinnately compound leaves similar to holly. In late winter and early spring, long arching racemes of fragrant yellow flowers open, followed by attractive blue fruits in early summer. This evergreen shrub 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, and grows easily in partial to full shade and moist, well-drained soils. It is best to plant this shrub in areas protected from strong winds. It is also advisable to plant more than one shrub in an area for great berry production. Mahonia has no serious pests or diseases and is deer resistant.


Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ (Major Wheeler Trumpet Honeysuckle) is a native honeysuckle vine with 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. Trumpet Honeysuckle blooms on both new and old growth, so the vine can be pruned to fit the site. Once established, the vine is tolerant of drought and dry soils, and will climb 8 to 15 feet. The more sun this cultivar gets, the more flowers it will produce. It can also be grown in a pot and is deer resistant.

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. Each stem has 8 to 15 variegated leaves. 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. This perennial is best for woodland gardens or shady sections of rock gardens. Solomon’s Seal does best in cool climates, and prefers more shade in warmer climates.

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ (Dark-leaved Bugbane) is most noted for its dark, deeply lobed foliage that grows in large clumps each spring. The leaves usually reach about 2.5 feet tall, but the flower stalks can reach up to 6 feet tall. Flowers are numerous and white with a pleasant fragrance. Great for a shade garden or perennial border, this herbaceous perennial does best when planted in groups. It is easily grown in organically rich soils with medium moisture and full to partial shade. Hillside Black Beauty has few pest or disease problems and the common name, Bugbane, refers to the bug-repelling properties of the plant.

Rudbeckia maxima (Great Coneflower), a native of the U.S., 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. Once the flowers go to seed, gardeners will enjoy the wildlife that comes to eat the seeds. Goldfinches and sparrows are some of the many small birds drawn to the Great Coneflower. This herbaceous perennial grows best in well-drained average soils with full sunlight exposure. If conditions are right, this plant will begin to naturalize in an area and spread through seed dispersal. No serious diseases or pests affect this plant, but it is susceptible to powdery mildew when stressed.

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. In fall, the grass is topped with attractive plumes while the foliage turns a yellow-beige color. This herbaceous perennial is best planted in groups or as part of a naturalized landscape. Easy to grow and drought-tolerant, Northwind Switchgrass prefers moist sandy or clay soils. In full sun it has an upright columnar habit, but in more shady conditions it will grow in a more open form. This native perennial is deer resistant, disease-free and tolerant of salty soils.