Project Dogwood

The Augusta Garden Club was organized in 1919. By 1928 the club planted 228 dogwood trees leading from the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace to Staunton Military Academy, which closed in 1976 and was subsequently absorbed by Mary Baldwin University.

James Clay Ruff
1895 - 1935

In 1935, Staunton’s City Manager James C. Ruff aspired to make Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia to rival Washington, D.C.’s reputation for their cherry blossoms. He encouraged Staunton’s citizens to plant two dogwoods in their yards while he solicited donations from garden and civic clubs for plantings in Gypsy Hill Park and throughout the city. In April of that year, Mr. Ruff started a municipal nursery and directed the planting of 1,800 dogwoods at no cost to the city; local jail prisoners provided the labor to plant them.

By 1952, an additional 475 dogwoods had been planted: 150 in Woodrow Park, 225 along Coalter Street, and 100 more dogwoods in Gypsy Hill Park. Unfortunately, over the decades many existing dogwoods fell victim to the anthracnose blight and died.

In 2013, the Augusta Garden Club partnered with city horticulturist Matt Sensabaugh to revive Mr. Ruff’s vision. The City monitors the trees and is committed to their long-range maintenance and our continued partnership. From 2013 to 2016, the Augusta Garden Club contributed $7,450 for the planting of 67 trees in multiple locations in Staunton’s largest city park, Gypsy Hill.

Yulee Larner, Mr. Ruff’s daughter, said that her father chose dogwoods because they bloom in the spring and have berries in the fall.

When the Augusta Garden Club’s three year commitment to plant dogwoods came to an end, the club applied for and received three grants as follows: $2,000 from the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, $500 from the Staunton Rotary Club, and $10,000 from the Garden Club of America 2017 Founders Award. These funds were used to plant dogwoods at Montgomery Hall Park and local schools including the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Project Dogwood has a conservation and educational mission as well as beautification. The club funded a “teaching arboretum” of seven hybrid cultivars to determine varieties that will thrive. They are resistant to the blight that has doomed thousands of dogwood trees in the South. In addition to providing an opportunity to experiment with varieties to determine local viability, Project Dogwood focuses on educating the community about the Virginia state tree and flower.

History of Project Dogwood

Augusta Garden Club (AGC) Archives - The AGC was organized in 1919. By 1928 the club planted 228 dogwood trees leading from the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace to Staunton Military Academy, which closed in 1976 and was subsequently absorbed by Mary Baldwin University.

The Vision – City Manager Mr. James Ruff had a vision to make Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia to rival Washington, D.C.’s reputation for their cherry blossoms. He encouraged Stauntonians to plant two dogwoods in their yards, solicited donations from garden and civic clubs, started a municipal nursery, and used jail work crew to provide the labor. By the end of that year, 1800 dogwood trees were planted at no cost to the city.

AGC Archives - AGC history stated that 150 trees were planted in Woodrow Park, 225 along Coalter Street, and 100 in Gypsy Hill Park, totaling 475 dogwood trees.

Project Dogwood Year 1 – AGC developed a partnership with the City of Staunton and City Horticulturist. AGC contributed $1,950 to plant 15 trees in Gypsy Hill Park.

Project Dogwood Year 2 – AGC contributed $3,000 to plant 32 trees in Gypsy Hill Park.

Project Dogwood Year 3 – AGC contributed $2,500 to plant 20 trees in Gypsy Hill Park. (Over a three-year period, AGC invested $7,450 to plant 67 trees in Gypsy Hill Park.)

Project Dogwood Year 4 - AGC developed grant proposals and was funded by the Community Foundation of Central Blue Ridge for $2,000 and Staunton Rotary for $500 to work with the city to plant trees in Montgomery Hall Park. AGC developed the GCA Founders Fund proposal and was named a finalist. The club passed a resolution to make Project Dogwood its Signature Project for future years.

Project Dogwood Year 5 – AGC received $10,000 from the GCA Founders Fund Award for tree planting, signage, and educational efforts. AGC initiated a Member Challenge to plant dogwoods in private yards and businesses. In addition, AGC will submit a GCV Common Wealth Award proposal.

Project Dogwood Year 6 – Celebration of AGC Centennial with the possibility of including  Project Dogwood related initiatives.

Information about Dogwoods

Dogwood is a popular spring-flowering tree with over 100 varieties and cultivars (Cornus florida) grown in the United States. Dogwood trees are deciduous, with a rounded leaf canopy. They grow up to 40 feet tall and are cold hardy to 15 degrees F. Dogwoods prefer full sun to partial shade, and nutrient-rich, well-drained, acidic soils. Dogwoods do not tolerate drought or waterlogged conditions. Actual dogwood flowers are small, and greenish-yellow. The showy parts people call the flower are petal-like bracts.

Cultivars can be divided into four groups: trees that have large flowers such as Barton, Cloud 9, and Junior Miss; those with pink or red flowers such as Cherokee Chief, Cherokee Sunset, and Red Beauty; variegated foliage varieties including Cherokee Daybreak and First Lady; and dogwoods with an unusual growth habit including Compacta, a slow-growing form, Pendula, a weeping dogwood and Pygmaea, a dwarf plant.

In 2014, the city horticulturist researched various cultivars and the following were planted in Gypsy Hill Park:
'Cherokee Brave' - small dark red bracts; consistently resistant to powdery mildew
'Cherokee Princess' - vigorous white bracts; industry standard for white flowers
'Karen's Appalachian Blush' – delicate white bracts edged in pink; some powdery mildew resistance
'Appalachian Spring' – large white bracts; red fall foliage; resistant to dogwood anthracnose
'Aurora' - scientists at Rutgers University began hybridizing the flowering dogwood to develop a cultivar resistant to anthracnose and the dogwood borer. The Aurora Dogwood, one of the Rutgers Stellar series, was an outcome of their research and hybridization.

Flowering Dogwood: Cornus florida
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Cornales
Family: Cornaceae
Genus: Cornus
Subgenus: Benthamidia
Species: C. florida
Binomial name: Cornus L.

A very positive preliminary report from the city horticulturist, Matt Sensabaugh, indicates that there was a 100% survival rate of the new Dogwood trees in Gypsy Hill Park and that each variety has done well. Overall, the Cherokee Princess has been the most vigorous. The Cherokee Brave and Appalachian Spring did well but were not quite as vigorous as the Princess. The Appalachian Blush did not do quite as well but this may have been due to the size of the root balls and depth of the root flair in the root ball. The Aurora also did well. Mr. Sensabaugh will continue to monitor these trees during their second year.

As a result of this civic project, an excellent article appeared in The News Leader on 4-10-14 (Dogwoods Taking Root in the Park: Horticulturalists in Staunton plant 23 trees in Gypsy Hill). Follow up interest to the article resulted in two additional donations of money from the community to support Dogwood tree planting. In summary, AGC funding to restore Dogwood plantings in Gypsy Hill Park carries on Mr. Ruff's vision and contributes to the beautification of our city. We will keep you updated!

Note: informational sources include Wikipedia and

Grant Support

The Augusta Garden Club wishes to thank our local and national partners in providing the financial support we need in order to propel Project Dogwood forward.

Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge Award - Received in May 2016. Since a part of the Augusta Garden Club’s mission is to promote civic planting and beautification and because this initiative has been underway in Gypsy Hill Park for decades, the club is currently focused on extending this project to another city park that holds much historical and cultural significance in our community. The Community Foundation has awarded the Augusta Garden Club a $2,000 grant to expand this project to Montgomery Hall Park. Opened in 1947, it was one of the first African-American parks in Virginia. To continue park improvements, the Augusta Garden Club contributed dogwoods at the park entrance and other focal points throughout the park.


Staunton Rotary Club Award - Received in July 2016. Inspired by the Augusta Garden Club’s three-year effort (2013-2016) in collaboration with the city to plant dogwoods at Gypsy Hill Park (Staunton’s largest park) after many dogwoods were destroyed by the anthracnose blight, a new project was introduced to the Staunton Rotary Club. The Augusta Garden Club was awarded $500 to celebrate the diversity of Staunton by focusing on Montgomery Hall Park to enhance the beautification of this historic venue.


Spring 2018 dogwood plantings in Montgomery Hall Park as result of our Founder’s Fund grant award

Garden Club of America 2017 Founders Fund Award - Received May 2017. As runner-up for this grant, the Augusta Garden Club of Staunton was awarded $10,000 to use for Project Dogwood. The Augusta Garden Club will work with city horticulturist Matt Sensabaugh to plant additional resistant dogwoods in city parks and schoolyards. As part of the Founders Fund Award, the Augusta Garden Club will contribute educational signage in the parks and will create teaching materials for students.

Garden Club of Virginia - The Augusta Garden Club submitted an application for the Garden Club of Virginia's Common Wealth award on March 1, 2018.

Dogwoods being planted at the City's elementary schools.



Tribute to Matt Sensabaugh, City Horticulturalist

Matthew Sensabaugh, Horticulturist for the City of Staunton, VA, has had a distinguished career in horticulture. He started young and has been a gardener all his life. As a toddler, he loved playing in the dirt of his mother’s potted plants and was often scolded for the mess he joyfully created. It is no wonder Matt went on to obtain a BS degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech and become a certified arborist. After college, he worked in landscape contracting and construction for five years. Upon moving to Staunton, he joined the staff of a local landscaper. He also worked at Monticello with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and as if this were not enough, he ran a contracting business on the side for ten years.  In 2005, he was hired by the Staunton’s Parks Department.

Matt’s appointment as City Horticulturist was a stroke of luck not only for Staunton but especially for The Augusta Garden Club. He has been our great friend and mentor. In 2008, he helped us determine appropriate places along Lewis Creek in Gypsy Hill Park for our educational signage project on the importance of clean water. Later, when we planted several serviceberry (Amelanchior) trees in the park, he advised us where to plant them and then supervised their installation and care.

Naturally, our club turned to Matt for our recent civic endeavor, Project Dogwood, which involved the planting of over 60 dogwood cultivars in Gypsy Hill Park. Matt researched which cultivars would work best and recommended the best locations for them. He handled their purchase, transportation, planting, watering, and maintenance. He continues to keep an eye on the trees and supply our club with periodic updates on their well-being.

Holly Bailey and Carrie Darracott present the GCA Horticulture Commendation Award to Matthew Sensabaugh

When The Augusta Garden Club decided to expand Project Dogwood to other locations in Staunton besides Gypsy Hill Park and to apply for a GCA Founders Fund Award, Matt was invaluable if not inspirational. We learned of a former city manager’s dream to make Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia; this information led to our Founders Fund proposal title, Project Dogwood: Staunton’s Tradition Reborn. Matt met with members of our committee numerous times advising us as to the best possible tree sites and the required budget. His expertise and generosity in sharing his knowledge are remarkable. As a proud finalist for a Founders Fund Award, we are in his debt and know that in the future, we can count on Matt to bring this project to fruition. He is a treasure!

In appreciation for Matt's work, the Augusta Garden Club presented him with the Garden Club of America's Club Horticulture Commendation Award in 2017.

ACG Member Dogwood Challenge

In 1935, Staunton’s City Manager James C. Ruff had a vision to make Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia to rival Washington, D.C.’s reputation for their cherry blossoms. He encouraged Staunton’s citizens to plant two dogwoods in their yards. The Augusta Garden Club is reviving this tradition by requesting each member plant at least one dogwood in her yard or business or to make a donation to someone else’s yard or business.

As a result of working with the city and monitoring the living laboratory in Gypsy Hill Park, the following seven dogwood cultivars have been found to be hearty and resistant to disease: Cherokee Princess, Karen’s Appalachian Blush, Jean’s Appalachian Snow, Cloud Nine, Appalachian Spring, Cherokee Brave, and Kay’s Appalachian Mist.

The hope and expectation is that this club-wide project might expand throughout the greater community of Staunton, as this represents one facet of a multi-year, multi-faceted dogwood restoration project. Click the image below for more information on the Dogwood Challenge!