Community Projects

Project Dogwood

Dogwood trees have been a focus of the Augusta Garden Club since 1928, and in 2013 the club revived a vision of making Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia. AGC partnered with the Staunton city horticulturist to contribute $7,450 towards the planting of 67 trees in the city’s largest park, Gypsy Hill Park. After receiving additional funding from two local grants, the club sought support from the Garden Club of America Founders Fund Award. In May 2017, the Fund awarded $10,000 to continue our partnership with the city to plant dogwoods at local schools as well as in Montgomery Hall (one of the first African-American parks in Virginia) and to create two teaching arboretums with educational signage. In October 2018, the AGC received an additional award of $6,000 from the Garden Club of Virginia Common Wealth Award to partner with Habitat for Humanity to plant multiple dogwoods in green spaces and at homes in a reviving historic Staunton neighborhood.

James C. Ruff 1895 to 1935

The Original Vision

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.

By the Year


Augusta Garden Club 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. Specifically, the AGC partnered with the city to use the Founders Fund Award money to plant dogwoods at three elementary schools and the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. AGC initiated a Member Challenge to plant dogwoods in private yards and businesses. In addition, AGC submitted a GCV Common Wealth Award proposal.

Project Dogwood Year 6

The AGC celebrated its Centennial with Project Dogwood by planting over 100 dogwoods in private yards, businesses, public parks, and schools. AGC received $6,000 as runner-up for the GCV Common Wealth Award. AGC has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to use these funds to plant dogwoods in the Stafford Street area of Staunton.


When our three year commitment to plant dogwoods came to an end, the club applied for and received three grants. These funds were used to plant dogwoods at Montgomery Hall Park and local schools including the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind.

In January 2017, the Augusta Garden Club voted unanimously to make Project Dogwood its signature project to ensure an unwavering focus on planting and learning about dogwoods in the years to come.

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.


The Dogwood

The 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.

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.

trees with large flowers

Dogwoods that have large flowers include Barton, Cloud 9, and Junior Miss.

Pink or red flowers

Trees with pink or red flowers include Cherokee Chief, Cherokee Sunset, and Red Beauty.

variegated foliage

Trees with flowers that are edged or patterned in a second color include Cherokee Daybreak and First Lady.

unusual growth habit

This category includes Compacta, a slow-growing form; Pendula, a weeping dogwood; and Pygmaea, a dwarf plant.

Dogwoods in Gypsy hill Park

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

Vigorous white bracts / industry standard for white flowers


One of the Rutgers Stellar series / Resistant to anthracnose and the dogwood borer

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
funding through

Grant Support


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. We partnered with city horticulturist Matt Sensabaugh to plant dogwoods at three elementary schools and the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind. As part of the Founders Fund Award, our club will contribute educational signage in the parks and will create teaching materials for students.

Garden Club of Virginia 2018 Common Wealth Award​

Received October 2018
As a runner up for this grant, AGC received $6,000, which it is using in partnership with Habitat for Humanity to to plant dogwoods in the Stafford Street area of Staunton.

Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge Award​

Received May 2016
The Community Foundation has awarded the Augusta Garden Club a $2,000 grant to expand our beautification 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 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 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.
a tribute to our

City Horticulturalist

Matthew Sensabaugh joined Staunton’s Parks Department as the City’s Horticulturist in 2005. Matt has been a great friend and mentor to The Augusta Garden Club. 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 100 dogwood cultivars throughout the City. Matt researched which cultivars would work best and recommended the best locations for them to be planted. 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. Matt was also instrumental in helping research information on a former city manager’s dream to make Staunton the dogwood capital of Virginia. This information ultimately led to Project Dogwood receiving multiple grants to expand our project.

In gratitude

The Horticulture Commendation Award

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.

how it works

The dogwood challenge

The Augusta Garden Club is reviving Mr. Ruff’s 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.

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. 

Other projects
Each spring, The Garden Club of Virginia welcomes visitors to over 250 of Virginia's most beautiful gardens, homes, and historic landmarks during "America's Largest Open House."
The Rawlinson Collection memorializes a former member who was not only an able gardener but also editor for many years of the Garden Club of Virginia’s Garden Gossip.
As a part of its effort to promote and create public awareness of conservation in the Staunton and Augusta County area, the Augusta Garden Club initiated a series of signs to educate the public about the Lewis Creek Watershed.