University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Many states and regions of the country have programs to award and promote outstanding new plant introductions. In New England, this is the Cary Award. Every year, three to five shrubs, groundcovers, or small trees are designated Cary Award winners. Some are new, but others have been around and just deserve wider use.

Founded in 1997, the Cary Award program is a collaborative effort of several New England and state nursery associations and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden near Worcester, Mass. Plants are selected by a group of horticulturists representing the nursery industry and academia. While not all plants are hardy throughout all of New England, many are suitable for the north country. For example, of the three selections for 2002, one is hardy in most of Vermont (USDA zone 4), one is not, and one is marginal.

The hardiest of this year's winners is the 'Ken Janek' rhododendron, which will grow to three feet high and five feet across. Hardy in zone 4, it has pink flowers and fuzz on the undersides of the evergreen leaves. Another winner, the Korean Dogwood, is the northern answer to the southern dogwood. However, it is still only hardy to zone 5.

The final 2002 winner, the Seven Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is listed as hardy to zone 5, but I've been growing one for at least six years in zone 4. Introduced from China in 1980, it becomes a large shrub that's eight to 10 feet tall or more in warmer climates. It has several interesting features--white flowers in October, followed by red sepals (flower parts), and the attractive peeling light and dark brown bark. With the early arrival of fall in zone 4, however, I've found it may not bloom.

Three winners also were named for 2001. The Chinese Witchhazel Pallida, with its fragrant yellow flowers in early spring, is listed only as hardy to zone 5. The other two winners are hardy in zone 4. 'Donald Wyman' crabapple is named after the famous horticulturist and is resistant to many of the diseases affecting crabapples. Its spring flowers are red in bud, turning pink, then white when open. In the fall it has attractive red fruits. The Green Sheen pachysandra is a groundcover with shiny dark green leaves.

If you like the idea of including Cary Award winners as part of your landscape, consider the bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a 1999 winner that's hardy to zone 4. This New England native is a very low groundcover, slow growing but worth the wait. Its shiny leaves turn reddish in the fall, and its red fruits are attractive to wildlife. It must have a sandy, well-drained soil. In fact, it grows well on the beaches of southern New England, tolerating salt spray.

Red Sprite is a low winterberry holly, also listed as hardy in zone 4. This is not an evergreen holly but a deciduous one, losing its leaves in the winter. This exposes the bright red berries, but enjoy them before the birds do! This is a shorter form of the native species, which tolerates damp areas. It was a winner in 1998.

Another winner from that year is one of my favorite landscape plants, the Russian Arborvitae or Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata). This is an evergreen foliage shrub, similar to junipers and a good substitute, but low growing. Mine, which is six years old, is under one foot high and about six feet across. Unlike junipers, this will tolerate sun or shade. It is from Siberia and so is quite hardy (zone 3). In the fall the foliage turns a lovely reddish bronze. It is one of the easier to grow and least maintenance low growing shrubs for our region.

You can find out more about these and other selections, and view photos, at the Cary Award Website:

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