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Gold Medal (Plant) Fever

If you've got Olympic gold medal fever, consider growing some gold medal winners of your own.

Now that the 2012 Summer Olympics are underway, I wonder how many gold medals our U.S. athletes will bring home. If you are itching for some gold medal winners, you can plant some in your garden. That's right! There may not be a 'Michael Phelps' dogwood, but there are plenty of gold medal winners to plant right in your yard.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Gold Medal program has recognized plants of outstanding merit for over 30 years. Each year the winners are selected for performance, appearance, and hardiness (generally, in zones 5-7). Gold Medal-winning plants exhibit excellent pest and disease resistance, and, they are easy to grow.

This year, the society has chosen four outstanding woody plants that have earned the title, "Gold Medal Plant."

'Rising Sun' Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Rising Sun'). If you are looking for a small, showy deciduous tree, this one is stunning. Small, pinkish flowers burst forth in early spring on bare branches. The bark is smooth, a yellowish-tan in color. The heart-shape foliage that emerges is a "brilliant tangerine to apricot" color, according to information from the horticultural society. Besides the beauty of this native tree, it is heat tolerant, drought resistant, and cold hardy. It reaches 10 to 20 feet in height.

Darts Duke Viburnum (Viburnum x rhytidophylloides ‘Darts Duke’). This semi-evergreen shrub has extra large, leathery, dark green leaves and huge six to ten inch creamy-white flowers in May. In the fall, its bright red fruit slowly darkens. This shrub will tolerate heavy shade or full sun and grows 8 to 10 feet high. This disease- and deer-resistant shrub may re-bloom in October. It makes a great specimen, or plant it as a screen or hedge.

Japanese Cornel Dogwood (Cornus officinalis 'Kintoki'). You'll enjoy the numerous clusters of bright yellow flowers in March and April with this small deciduous tree. The gorgeous peeling bark in shades of gray, brown and orange develops as the tree grows older. By September, you'll see large reddish-purple cherry berries that you can eat. The tree grows to about 15 feet high and just as wide and is suited to full sun or partial shade.

Portugal Laurel (Prunus lusitanica). This evergreen shrub (or small tree) has shiny bright green foliage on red stems that take on a bluish tinge in winter. The tree reaches 10 to 20 feet in the average residential setting, while it can grow up to 50 feet tall in the wild. It will produce many beautiful five- to ten-inch white flowers in late May, followed by small purplish-red cherries that darken in fall. The birds will eat these cherries after they ripen. Plant this drought-tolerant tree or shrub in partial sun. Use it as a hedge or specimen plant.

Enjoy growing your Gold Medal winner! For a complete listing of plants with profiles and sources, visit The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Gold Medal program website.

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