Decumaria barbara

2022 – Woodvamp (Decumaria barbara)

Woodvamp, also known as climbing hydrangea, is a deciduous, semi-evergreen vine that has dark, glossy leaves. Its flowers are small, white, and fragrant, and only appear on new growth. It attracts bees and butterflies with its clusters of flowers. Woodvamp is a great candidate to cover the side of a building, grow over a trellis, or even climb up a mature tree. It doesn’t do any real harm to the tree, as it tends to cling to the main trunk, instead of competing with the tree by covering its canopy. It also makes a great ground cover and will keep full leaf coverage from the base of the plant to the top of the vine (note that it will only flower when climbing). Woodvamp does exceptionally well in part shade, and is fast growing, reaching up to 5 feet of new growth a year. It can reach a height of about 50 feet.  

Rhododendron arborescens

2022 – Sweet azalea (Rhododendron arborescens)

The sweet azalea is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall with a similar width. It thrives in acidic, well-draining soils and in part shade. There are two main forms of sweet azalea. What could be called the “straight species” blooms in late May to mid-June while the variety called “Georgiana” blooms mid-July to early August. Regardless of form, their flowers have a wonderful, strong fragrance that lives up to its name. The 2-inch-wide flowers can be white, sometimes tinged with pink, and very rarely pink.  The leaves turn a lovely crimson/orange in the fall. This species makes an outstanding addition to any garden. 

Muhlenbergia capillaris

2022 – Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Photo courtesy of Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Pink muhly grass is a perennial grass that stands 2–4 feet tall and grows to be 2–3 feet wide. It is a warm-season grass, which means the green foliage will begin growing in the summer, turning a copper color in autumn. Pink muhly grass is a great complement to summer annuals, as it will give some interest later in the season as the blooms of annuals are fading. Around the beginning of fall is also when the vibrant pink flower stalks begin to appear, rising up above the leaves, which will last until the end of the season.

This grass is commonly found along roadsides, prairies, and open woodlands. Pink muhly grass grows in clumps, and does not spread through underground stems, making it a relatively easy plant to maintain. It is shade and drought tolerant but performs best with lots of sun and planted in well-draining soil.  

Asarum canadense

2021 – Wild Ginger

Wild ginger is a low-growing and vigorous plant that grows in rich woodlands from Louisiana to Canada. In dense shade, its heart-shaped leaves will appear a velvety, dark green. In the spring, small, dark purple flowers emerge on the underside of its leaves. This is a prolific, deciduous plant that spreads through underground rhizomes to create a lush groundcover. Wild ginger can be incorporated into any shade-loving garden bed.

This herbaceous perennial plant benefits native wildlife in various ways; since it is among the first wildflowers to bloom, its flowers provide nectar and shelter for early pollinators. Additionally, its seeds contain a fatty appendage, known as an elaiosome, that is eaten by ants. By taking the seeds back to their underground homes to eat, ants subsequently disperse and plant them. Wild ginger is also said to be an alternate host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Rhododendron atlanticum

2021 – Coastal azalea

The coastal azalea is a deciduous shrub that grows in moist, acidic, sandy soils from Pennsylvania to Georgia. At maturity, it is typically 2-3 feet tall, but can reach up to 6 feet in the right conditions. In the spring, this azalea is adorned with white flowers that are blushed with light pink. These tubular flowers are fragrant and attractive to butterflies and bees.

As its name implies, it is native to coastal regions. However, the coastal azalea can also be a beautiful addition to home gardens with moist, well drained soils. Mulching around the roots can help the soil retain moisture and provide a conducive growing environment. Its spring blooms make a great addition to a partly shaded entrance or border garden.