Southern Gardens with Norman Winter
Norman Winter “The Garden Guy” (@normanwinterthegardenguy) is a southern gardening specialist who has been evaluating plants in Texas, Mississippi and Coastal Georgia gardens for the last three decades. He is recently retired as the Director of the University of Georgia’s Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah and was previously an extension horticulturist and coordinator for the Mississippi Medallion Award trial program.
When asked, Norman is happy to trial varieties being considered for the Heat is On™ program, a line of plants that are recommended especially for the South. As a person who has gardened in the South for many years, Norman can spot plants that are more than just beautiful--he realizes they need to be tough and rugged to endure the southern heat and humidity.
Norman is especially passionate about plants that are champions for pollinating bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, which he photographs with amazing precision and beauty. Truffula™ Pink Gomphrena is one of Norman’s favorite plants for pollinators. Annuals with tropical flair like Heart to Heart™ caladiums are also favorites. We appreciate our long-standing friendship with Norman, and the photographs of our plants that he has shared with us throughout the years.
Each year as my color design guru son James orders plants for use at his clients’ homes, from those that look like historic cottages to palatial garden estates, those on the waterfront to those considered mountainous, the one color that I can be guaranteed that will be in heavy use is white.
When spring arrives every year with all of its glorious colors -- purples, pinks, yellows and reds, the color guaranteed to catch your eye every time is white. Of course, a scientist would most likely say white is not a color, it absorbs no other color or wavelength and is pure.
This goes in hand with the bride wearing a white dress or the nurse wearing a white uniform. It’s like the morning you wake and see the pure white snow on the ground that hasn’t been violated in any way.
Notice what Mother Nature does in the forest. The dogwoods seem to glow with their blooms, attracting our attention to the glistening, reflective bracts in an otherwise simple forest of green.
White Flowers Say Planning and Precision
White flowers like this year’s new Soprano impatiens not only give definition to those shadier areas of the landscape, but also offer a sense of cleanliness and purity. They also give a feeling of planning and precision. In other words, the gardener knew what he was doing by carefully planting white.
Notice I said carefully. While it can be argued that every other color looks its best partnered with white, they can also be overwhelmed. White is so flashy and bright it can steal the promise or potential of its companions. We notice how Diamond Frost and Diamond Snow euphorbia with their tiny white flowers enhance the look of all their companions.
When possible, use white bedding plants like Supertunia Vista Silverberry, Supertunia Vista Snowdrift or Supertunia Mini Vista White at the front of the border, along sidewalks or trails to define where the walkway begins. This makes the nighttime stroll in the garden come alive.
Give a Vertical Dimension with Climbers and Tumblers
White is the last color to disappear as sun sets in the evening. If it is a moonlit night then they will reflect light all night. Use flowering vines like the Proven Winners new Thunbergia, Coconut A-Peel, or the topical Bombshell White mandevilla to add nighttime interest as they give a vertical element by climbing Victorian style tower or trellis.
While ‘The Garden Guy’ loves hot orange, red and salmon, if you walked onto my patio tonight the Superbena Whiteout verbenas would be seen tumbling over the rims of containers and cascading over the rock wall in the distance. This is a verbena for all time, offering vigor and large flowers glistening in the moonlight
Making the Moonlit Garden Magical
The moonlit garden can be incredibly magical with the addition of shrubs with white fragrant flowers. This will be the place where childhood memories are made. Memories of Mom and Dad and how life was, back then. Proven Winners has introduced the Illuminati series of fragrant Mock Oranges which will have three varieties with the addition of the new Illuminati Sparks in 2023. Then there are the native Clethera or summersweet, like Vanilla Spice and Sugartina Crystalina, that by the mere mention of their name says olfactory experience. The shrub that everyone has been talking about however, is Fizzy Mizzy a compact fragrant Virginia sweetspire making its debut this year.
The Moonlit Garden is enchanting and magical, it just takes a little planning. Proven Winners
The Garden Guy lives in a strange hardiness zone. I am in zone 8a but very close to 8b and not too far from 7b. I suppose it is the changes in altitudes and valleys that create the climatic drama. I moved to this house in early spring of 2019 and it has been simply amazing. I’m wondering however, it may also be amazing for many other gardeners in the South and if so, it may very well be that our plant material is much improved.
Since March of 2019, all of the Rockin’ Salvias have become very happy perennials in my garden, as have Luscious Royale Cosmo, Luscious Marmalade, Luscious Citron and Luscious Citrus Blend lantanas, Superbena Stormburst and Superbena Whiteout verbenas.
That is not nearly all, Vermillionaire cuphea has perennialized, Pyromania Blaze and Pyromania Backdraft Kniphofia all returned as have the ‘Be My Calla’ lilies. My October planted Supertunias lasted until the monsoons of July and my April 2021 planted Superbells Grape Punch calibrachoas are blooming now and 3-foot long.
One more, for the first time in my life I had a plant bloom from April 2021 every day until April 28, 2022 and it is not going to stop. In other words, it has been a perpetual bloomer and that plant is Augusta Lavender heliotrope which is making its debut this year.
My temperatures reached low 20’s at least a half dozen times with the coldest being 21 on March 13. So, your story may be different. It seems that all of this plant vigor opens the door to new design opportunities which really requires just a little more planning or thought on our part.
Some gardeners are mistaken thinking that a perennial is a plant you set out and it thrives for a lifetime without any maintenance. This is not the case but on the other hand it can be said that perennials are easy to care for. The most important rule in selecting a perennial is to make sure it is appropriate for the site you have in mind. Because if it is a perennial, it will occupy that space for some time. So here is the first dilemma—are you wanting your plant to be perennial where you are planting it? Probably most of us are, which means let’s assume it will be and hope.
Almost everywhere I plant has a gentle slope and years of leaves decomposing on the ground. I have been plagued with tight clay my whole life and now I can pretty much shout BINGO. Soil preparation for perennials is about the same as for annuals. Before you ever lift the shovel, consider what your expectations are for the perennials you have purchased.
The most important question may be, do you have a vision, of that you want that salvia, lantana or coneflower to look like in the third year? This really points out dilemma 2—are you expecting or wanting the plant to be perennial and then you have to consider how much larger they may be in later years.
Once the goal is in place then you will most likely have the realization that proper soil preparation is essential. Most often gardeners find that making major soil improvement corrections in the second or third year can be virtually impossible without completely redoing the bed.
Perennials look best when grown in a border, whether it borders a fence, wall, or driveway. When planting a border against a fence or wall leave space between it and the taller backdrop plants. This allows for better air circulation, more light penetration and ease of maintenance from the rear of the bed.
Island beds in the middle of the lawn have become very popular as they allow for viewing from all sides. In these types of beds, the taller plants are used in the middle and layered downward to the perimeter. The island bed normally requires a little more effort to keep it looking attractive since it can be viewed from so many angles.
When creating the perennial border, plant in large bold informal drifts of color. In other words, plant in groups versus spot planting. In addition to considering the colors, group differing textures or shapes of flowers too. For instance, the large blooms of Rainbow Rhythm daylilies combine wonderfully with spiky blossoms of Rockin’ salvias. Coarse or tropical textured foliage of plants like Toucan cannas and Heart to Heart caladiums give added interest to the garden.
A mixed border of annuals, perennials, and woody evergreens is one of the best styles for gardeners in urban neighborhoods. Woody evergreens, like hollies and conifers, serve as the foundation of the border, the bones, and certainly a backdrop for colorful flowers. Green is also a most important color flower border too as plants like the Graceful grasses, ColorBlaze Lime Time coleus and Shadowland hostas can be effectively used as transitions between colors. There has never been a more enjoyable time to be a gardener, get to the garden center this weekend.
Follow me on Facebook: Norman Winter The Garden Guy for more photos and garden inspiration.
Cozy outdoor rooms have become goal number one, perhaps from the stress of the job-related commute or it just may be anxiety-related as we watch everything the world has on its plate. We want to come home to our nest.
The term nesting has been embraced by the landscape industry as they strive to help homeowners achieve their outdoor dreams. If the budget allows it, a landscape designer and contractor may be just what you need. If your project will be a DIY, have no fear.
Keep your home’s architectural style in mind when creating an outdoor room-ideally, outdoor spaces should accentuate the indoor spaces. Notice the plural form, you may have the space and the need for more than one outdoor room.
It seems that many homeowners planning outdoor rooms are inspired by (or faced with) three situations. One is the need to improve a landscape someone else started. Usually this is the easiest, that being said, I know full well that sometimes what we inherit comes with huge issues.
The other two are “blank slates”--either wooded lots or acreage, which to me is the most enjoyable. Here we can allow nature to ultimately guide us by virtue of native trees, shrubs, animal trails, streams and if we are lucky, changes in elevation.
Then there is the dreaded blank slate, where everything was bulldozed and, more than likely, a fence was installed, leaving a landscape somewhat reminiscent of a miniature Fort Apache. In this case, you think your first consideration should be where to put the cannons.
The scorched earth, bulldozed scenario dictates that you begin by adding a porch, patio or deck as your first outdoor room, followed by planting trees, and shrubs for screening. You might think screens are for only large areas, or those with no fence, but this is not the case. Living screens can make small backyards feel more natural and private.
Before you begin any actual work, jot down a few ideas about how the space will be used and all of its applications. As you contemplate, you may realize that you want more than one “room”- perhaps one that is sunny and colorful, and the other with cool shade, and/or even a space where there is fire, food and maybe even water.
The size of your landscape will dictate how many rooms you can realistically have. The current trend in interior design is the “open concept”, with kitchen, living, and dining spaces all within view. In the landscape vistas are welcomed, but the secret gardens and private spaces are those that are most often treasured. If your space is small, then a courtyard garden like those in New Orleans or Savannah may be just what is needed.
As you develop your outdoor rooms, consider using the “conceal and reveal” approach versus the indoor open concept. The purpose of conceal and reveal is to create a garden of participation. The entire garden can’t be seen from any one point, so walking out the backdoor from your first outdoor room, which is the porch, patio or deck, you initially see only one portion of the yard. The remaining landscape is a mystery, your paradise is hidden, as is the chicken coop garden, or a special reading area concealed by climbing clematis.
Once out in the garden, you catch glimpses, like looking through a window, there appears to be a place of rest and relaxation just down a path, around the corner. You have become an active participant, strolling down the pathway. In the new room or location, the patio or where you started is hardly seen or no longer visible. Where the garden concludes is up to you.
Proven Winners has everything you need for your rooms--fragrant plants, flowers for pollinator perfection, and vegetables for the kitchen. Trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals are available for your zone no matter where you live. If you can dream it Proven Winners can help you create it.
As spring clean-up is underway it has become quite apparent to me that a gold mine of soil amendments is being placed at the roadside. I suppose it has always happened, but with the advent of paper lawn refuse bags it is now much more apparent. The scene is surreal.
On the positive side, more and more County Public Works Departments composts this waste and give it back to the public. Does your county?
I suppose the real question is: Do you take advantage of it? Those, dozen or so bags of leaves at the street side have the potential of helping you start a compost pile that will pave the way to a great new azalea bed, cottage garden or tropical paradise.
When I was the Director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, we seemed to always have a large pile of compost that would to be incorporated into the Louisiana iris display garden, Sun Garden, Shade Garden or Pollinator Garden. Compost never goes out of style!
My children grew up learning the phrase, "the key to the green thumb is how brown it gets first, in soil preparation." Compost, that dark crumbly organic material, is the key ingredient to the garden recipe. Incorporating organic matter helps loosen tight heavy soils so they will drain or improve sandy soil's ability to hold water and nutrients. You win no matter your soil type.
Compost piles can reach temperatures of 150 degrees inside from the heat given off by the microorganisms. I love seeing large piles of compost on a crisp morning. They will be smoking as if they are cooking. Actually, they are cooking up something good for us to use in the landscape.
You don't have to have big bins - let the size fit your yard. One of my favorite methods of building a compost bin is to use discarded wood pallets. You can easily make a square bin from four wood pallets by wiring the corners together.
These smaller scale units can be ideal by layering leaves or grass clippings 3-8 inches tall, covering them with 2-3 inches of top soil, and repeating the layers. The grass clippings provide nitrogen that aids in decomposition. It's not a bad idea to add a half cup of ammonium nitrate per eight bushels of leaves.
You may be worried that compost piles will stink, but under proper conditions they do not have an unpleasant odor. A true gardener relishes that earthy fragrance. Keep the pile moist, not soggy, and well aired for good microbial growth, good heating and decomposition. Lack of moisture and air will reduce microbial activity. Too much moisture may cause undesirable decomposition, which can lead to foul odor.
With proper nitrogen and turning of grass clippings, the process can take as little as 10 to 12 weeks. Leaves take a little longer, and larger pieces of plant material, such as wood chips or limbs, may take six months to a year. You will be amazed at the potential of bark to turn into organic treasure.
It seems in the south most of us are still raking leaves and pine straw which is the reason some of our streets are lined with paper bags. But even if yours are already gone, spring dictates grass clippings will soon either become your trash or treasure.
I cast my vote for treasure, for "Going Green in 2022." I promise you all great gardens have one thing in common and that is good soil.
Aqua Blue Pots in the landscape and staggered on the side of a hill, not my idea, but my bride, the person who pops up on my phone as Jan ‘My Love’ Winter. This is the color I have avoided like the plague all my life. To modify the French phrase this project was going to be my ‘Peace’ de Resistance.
The containers have two sections, a lower reservoir for pea gravel, and an upper-level for a good lightweight potting soil which I consider the critical element for all containers and baskets. I was also required to drill drainage holes in the upper-level compartment, and the bottom.
Since the containers were to be staggered on a slope I decided to wait until they were planted to level up not only with each other but from every angle in the landscape. For this, I used wood shims much as you would use for furniture in an old house.
Since the pots are ‘So Colorful’ I wanted a healthy dose of complementary colors. I chose Pyromania Orange Blaze kniphofia for thriller plants and Superbells Coral Sun calibrachoas for a little echo support. I also used Superbells Grape Punch calibrachoa and Illusion Emerald Lace ornamental sweet potato to contrast to create a mix of contrasting colors.
Colorful pots positioned out in the landscape also required a little thought to ground planted color. I wanted there to be a tie in so I chose several Pyromania Kniphofia called Back Draft to create a visual echo in between the three Aqua Blue pots. Back Draft is a little larger but both varieties offered a pleasing grassy texture when not in bloom.
The Pyromania Kniphofias are recommended for the most part from zones 5b to 9b. As you deadhead spent blooms, you’ll see new bloom stalks developing. Even when not in bloom, the Pyromania Orange Blaze looks regal in my mixed containers.
For those of you who might not be familiar with kniphofias they are also called torch lily or red hot poker and have their DNA back to Africa. The Pyromania series features Kniphofia hybrids reaching 30 to 48-inches tall with a 30-inch spread.
The torch lily, as the name suggests, is in the lily family and looks like a grassy plant except when it blooms, revealing some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet. These stunning flowers attract an assortment of pollinators including hummingbirds.
When Jan mentioned containers on the side of the hill, I was thinking Old World Style clay olive jars. I have to admit Jan ‘My Love’ Winter’s aqua blue selections that challenged me to the max were not just the ‘Peace’ de Resistance but actually as the French proclaim, the Pieces de Resistance!
Oh, the possibilities with that Wicked Witch! Son James dazzled me again with a combination planting featuring ColorBlaze Wicked Witch coleus and Canary Wing begonia. Immediately I noticed his carefully intended design of having the lime green margins of the coleus echo the golden-lime of the Canary Wing begonia.
While I often refer to terms like triadic harmony, complementary color, and monochromatic colored schemes it is the ‘echo of color’ in the garden that thrills me the most. The echo can be subtle or seemingly shouted but it is a clear clue the designer was using this form of repetition to grab you, causing you to grab a click or two with the camera.
The coleus and begonia echo of color was between plants, but once you start echoing from plants to doors, plants to furniture and plants to wood trim like shutters, or colorful picket fences, then the excitement or visual stimulation created seems to go off the charts.
The son uses the echo ploy in commercial landscapers throughout the city. I was noticing an apricot-orange door to a business the other day and the planters welcoming the clients featured Luscious Royale Cosmos lantana, Superbells Dreamsicle calibrachoa, and Vermillionaire cuphea, each one having a role in echoing the color of a most memorable door.
Something similar happened at the bright red festive-looking doors welcoming patrons to a restaurant in the Old Town community of North Columbus. In planter boxes along the sidewalks, boxwoods provided evergreen structure, but flowers like Blue My Mind evolvulus and the echoing color of brilliant Calliope Red geraniums gave the look of being hand-selected to match the doors.
Those were echoes with doors, but my friend Barbara Harvey in Kosciusko, MS always kept me mesmerized with color echoes from flowers and foliage to furniture whether in the back yard or the front porch of her Victorian house. One year she took my breath away with her front porch creation.
She created a sitting area combining two white wood rockers and two wicker pieces. One wicker piece was a small table between the rockers and the other was a fairly large Victorian-looking wicker rocking chair. The wicker pieces were painted with the most shocking shade of lime green that could be purchased or mixed at the paint store.
The echo however came from the largest handmade iron hanging basket anyone would attempt to hang above a porch railing. In the basket were monstrously large Dragon Wing Red begonias and a lime green ornamental sweet potato cascading toward the wicker rocker.
As a horticulturist and writer, I get invited to a lot of home and garden tours. Of course, that was pre-pandemic. At one in Madison MS, there was a color echo at a Creole Cottage-style home that was a thrill for the senses. Similar to the Kosciusko setting lime green was the star of the show.
This time lime-green shutters were hanging against a neutral wood. An old-world clay pot echoed the neutral wood of the house. In the pot, however, was tall burgundy coleus with lime green flecks and a lime green sweet potato hanging downward. It was, to say the least, picture-perfect.
With the spring season approaching, now is the perfect time to plan the color echoes around your home. In the creation of the landscape we preach repetition of plant material to bring harmony and of course to eliminate the possibilities of the two by two Noah Ark syndrome. In other words, two of everything at the garden center. I assure you a repetition of color or echo or color will be like creating vignettes, each a living landscape portrait. Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more pictures and inspiration.
When February rolls around at The Garden Guy’s house I immediately start looking for swelling buds on the Double Take Flowering Quince. I’ve been growing them for 6+ years in Georgia, in Savannah, Hamilton, and now Columbus, and the number of days in bloom is amazing, these are NOT your granny’s flowering quince. The bloom period has started as early as February 3 here and lasts until early April which is simply incredible.
While I will always adore or treasure the Double Take Scarlet, the newest in the series is Double Take™ Peach--a most rare and wonderful color for the garden. Nothing else matches this color. With four colors to choose from--Scarlet, Peach, Pink, and Orange--everyone should find a color to fit their palette.
Botanically speaking they are all selections of Chaenomeles speciosa which is native to China. Proven Winners is bringing us these shrubs that will reach approximately 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, boasting dazzling double flowers with petal counts.
The old-fashioned flowering quince always seems to be bare of flowers on the tips or tops of the plant but these blooms that reach up to 2 ½ inches in diameter stretch outward to the tip of the stem. That means the blossoms are almost as large as a tennis ball. They are cold hardy from zones 5-9 and deer resistant too.
Start shopping now to make sure you locate your source. If your local garden center doesn’t have them, you should be able to get them by mail order or online order. When you get yours select a site in full to part sun. These great flowering quinces deserve to be planted in a well-prepared shrub bed. Incorporate 3 to 4-inches organic matter, till your soil deeply and dig your hole about three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper. Place the flowering quince in the hole and backfill to two-thirds. Tamp the soil and water to settle. Add the remaining backfill and repeat the process which is getting all of the air pockets out and providing a great start for acclimatization of your new shrub.
These plants bloom on old wood so remember to not get pruning happy when they are in their deciduous or dormant state of winter. If any pruning is needed, make these cuts after the spring bloom. Of course, these make breathtaking cut flowers, so select as needed.
You’ll love how the Double Take™ flowering quince partners with spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils, Dutch iris, and Peruvian lilies and treasure the landscape that has them paired with dogwoods, redbuds, and the old-fashioned snowball viburnum.
To me, the flowering quince has always been that harbinger of spring. It’s the one plant that shouts with its colorful blooms, 'We Have Survived Winter'! I know everyone has been joking about 74 days in January but I assure you, Double Take Flowering Quince will make it all just a memory.
Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy. For more photos and garden inspiration.
Nothing could be more local – or make you more of a localvore – than eating locally grown produce that comes from your own garden plot. You may be thinking that you don’t have room for a garden, but I assure you that the vegetable garden has become ‘urbanized’ over the past few years for a couple of reasons.
The first is thanks to some new varieties of tomatoes, peppers and herbs offered by Proven Winners under there Proven Harvest line of edibles that includes award winning strawberries like Berried Treasure Red or Pink. They have taken the new urban vegetable garden by storm.
The small urban dweller garden has become one of the hottest trends in the country. Whether it is in rural areas, historic districts or the newest neighborhood, the size of garden plots have grown smaller. Even the well-known community garden projects display raised beds or boxes that are a far cry from the farm-type plot of our grandparents’ era.
This small garden concept is not just here, but in Europe as well. I follow several gardeners on Instagram who refer to their garden as their allotment. This has led to a host of new, compact vegetables. Tomatoes are, of course, first when it comes to popularity with those wanting to grow edibles.
While determinate or semi-determinate varieties – those we recommend that you cage like award winning Proven Winners Tempting Tomatoes Garden Gem – fit a smaller garden situation, new patio varieties like Tempting Tomatoes Goodhearted and Patio Sunshine open the door even wider, enticing everyone to grow some even if it is in a container or hanging basket.
Tomatoes aren’t the only varieties going compact. Proven Winners has peppers like Fire Away Hot and Heavy, Amazel Bazil and Pesto Besto basil that will entice you to hone your culinary skills.
Whether it is the global economy or are the uncertainties of the last couple of years that has fueled this trend, there are some great family benefits from these small, urban gardens. Today’s children are growing up in a fast-food world where nutrition and lack of outdoor time is common.
Once a child participates in growing vegetables, he or she will also want to partake in the eating of their crop. No way are the children passing up eating Proven Winners Dragon Tongue beans. Consequently, this child becomes the gardener of the future. So, whether you are a parent or a grandparent, get them started.
Since today’s urban vegetable garden is smaller, getting the soil rich and fertile is a proverbial “piece of cake.” Organic products are available at most garden centers by the bag or even by the scoop. Proven Winners has all you need in bagged soil and fertilizer that is just perfect.
The garden is constructed on raised beds and enclosed or separated from lawn areas with wood or rocks. This not only gives you the best in drainage and aeration, but keeps the encroaching grass out. I even bought an interlocking kit at the grocery store.
You can simply use the string trimmer around it. This style of garden makes it easy to tend from all sides without compacting soil by constantly making trips to hoe or weed. It can even be harvested by simply reaching inside.
Where do you start? Just grow what you like to eat! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.
Photo by Norman Winter
Photo by Norman Winter
Photo by Sarah Winter
Winterberry Hollies - Create a Hillside of Gold
A beautiful hillside of gold has become the norm in fall and winter in the Old Town community of North Columbus. The hill planted with dozens of Winterberry Hollies puts on a show from colorful foliage, despite a fall season of high heat and berries and then the feasting of the birds.
Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.
The horse troughs at Old Town in North Columbus GA are indicative of a trend sweeping the nations. These have been planted for cool-season color and interest.
Winter interest in the Southern landscape is simple if you follow the example of the Old Town Community of North Columbus. Once again, they are schooling us on the use of horse troughs for cool-season color, and this year, they are maximizing the use of texture, so much so I wrote about it in my national column. Since I retired from the University of Georgia, son James, the color design guru for Old Town keeps me involved, making me feel as though this is my experiment station.
In early October as he was planting, I thought he had pushed the proverbial edge of the envelope right over the abyss. These full sun containers have annuals, perennials, deciduous shrubs, succulents, and plants that require shade. Know this first, though I am talking old-fashioned horse troughs you can do the same in your favorite containers.
Let’s go over the recipe, concepts, and thoughts from the adage thriller, filler, and spiller. Though it is stunningly beautiful now in November, the crescendo brought about by the maturity in March and April will be like the finale
at a fireworks display.
These horse troughs are loaded with plants of texture like Dolce Cherry Truffles and Dolce Wildberry heuchera. Double Play Candy Corn spirea were chosen as the thriller plants.
The thriller or tallest plants in the troughs are the deciduous Double Play Candy Corn spirea. These have become favorites in the South with foliage that is literally candy corn colors. I suspect Proven Winners was counting on
zone 7 but we adore them in zones 8 and 9 too. Though they are dazzling now they will disappear later, returning
in absolute glory. Their retreat in the toughs will never be noticed as the other plant partners will be growing and masking the twigs.
Winter sun is magical, it lets you use shade lovers that look even more dazzling when brought to the light of day. This is where I wanted to tell you the fillers before spillers. In the South, heucheras, also known as coral bells, do best if given afternoon shade protection but that is summer. In the winter these evergreen perennials are simply amazing.
Our designer used Dolce Cherry Truffles and Dolce Wildberry. The dark reddish-burgundy and purple foliage will contrast or complement the spirea and every other plant in the troughs. In the spring Cherry Truffles will have
red flowers and Wildberry will deliver white blossoms
Another shade lover in the troughs is Queen of Hearts brunnera. These silver and green variegated heart-shaped leaves stand out in the mix not only because of their color but their distinct leaf shape. In the spring they will
have baby blue flowers.
The gentle cool-season allows shade-loving plants like Dolce Cherry Truffles heuchera and Queen of Hearts brunnera to be grown in full sun.
Never, ever underestimate the power of the fine leaf texture provided by a grass. Throughout the troughs there
are strategically placed Evergold Carex grasses. The wispy variegated leaf blades give a special spidery touch
that is so colorful while lending an artistic touch too.
The gentle cool-season allows shade-loving plants like Dolce Cherry Truffles heuchera and Queen of Hearts brunnera to be grown in full sun.
There are two spillers used throughout the troughs. The first is Lemon Coral sedum with its succulent like
foliage that will gently tumble over the rim like a slow chartreuse-colored lava flow. The final filler is the one everyone expects in the season, Cool Wave Yellow pansies. These will put on a trailing show of flowers
spreading to almost 3 feet.
I touched on the aspect of the gentleness of the winter sun here in zone 8a, but there is no doubt some of
you are thinking we can’t grow some of these plants because of our soil. Don’t forget these are growing in an organic-based potting mix which you too will use, meaning you escape rigorous soil pH requirements during this period of the cool season display.
Son James will pull all of these plants for the summer exchange of plant material. Hopefully, I will get notice
and be there representing The Garden Guy plant rescue service, whereby I will relocate those that need shade
or morning sun to a new location.
Cool-season container gardening is so enjoyable in the South and even more so when you can use a
farm-sized horse trough. Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration and I promise to keep you updated on these troughs through the season.
Shadowland® 'Autumn Frost' is a Heart Thumping Hosta that combines wonderfully with next year’s Soprano® impatiens.
Champions of the Shady Landscape Too
Plants like Supertunia® petunias, Superbells® calibrachoas, and Luscious® lantanas, make many gardeners see Proven Winners® as the champions of the sun. The Garden Guy is here to tell you they hoist the trophy for the shady landscape too.
The Shadowland® series of hostas are not only packed with award winners but surprising varieties that excel in the south. The giant Shadowland® 'Empress Wu', chartreuse and green 'Etched Glass', and my new love, the cream and green variegated 'Autumn Frost' are all wonderful partners for your favorite hydrangea or azalea.
They also make the most picturesque partners for the new Soprano® impatiens making their debut in 2022. Soprano® impatiens will put the fun back into bedding impatiens. There will be four colors that will light up the shadier part of your landscape. Soprano® Violet Shades, White Orange, and Bright Red.
You will be amazed at the durable performance of Soprano® impatiens over the long hot summer. In fact, you can combine your favorite hydrangea, Shadowland® hosta, and Soprano® impatiens for a shady garden that will rival the color and intensity of the best sunny garden.
I’ve mentioned some of my favorite Shadowland® hostas and I have too many hydrangeas to go over each one in this newsletter. But one I have to tout is the Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha®, a mountain hydrangea with enormous blue flowers. It was also a Proven Winners® National Hydrangea of the Year recently.
Mountain hydrangeas are known botanically as Hydrangea serrata. This is a species just not well known in the South. It has been dynamic in the University of Florida Trials and in The Garden Guy’s trials too. I assure you the green thumb is just about guaranteed on this hydrangea and you don’t need a mountain either.
Imagine the huge blue flowers partnered with colorful variegated hostas and intermingled with the new Soprano® Orange impatiens or consider Perfecto Mundo® Orange azaleas also making their debut in spring 2022.
You see, Proven Winners® are the champions of sun and shade so make plans for spring planting now. Follow me on Facebook@ @NormanWinerTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.
Gardeners need to never underestimate the power of the fine textured grassy element in the landscape and mixed containers, even more so when it is golden. Ogon, which means gold in Japanese, is one such plant. Botanically speaking, it is a stunning variety of Acorus or Japanese sweet flag that we use for grass-like texture.
Whether you are looking for a plant to use at stream’s edge, in a dry creek or as a filler in your mixed containers you will quickly recognize it’s award-winning nature. The Japanese sweet flag spreads from the tips of rhizomes similar to the way an iris spreads, which gives you the option of using it as a ground cover. In the South this plant does best if it gets a little filtered shade during the heat of the day.
Another incredible grassy option is Evergold carex. As the name suggests it is a mounded golden Japanese sedge. Using it in the landscape will give your border the finishing touch or the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’. The Garden Guy gives it more sun than the Ogon Japanese sweet flag and treats it differently when it comes to cutting back. In the early spring when growth is ready to resume, Evergold should be cut back much like we do for a liriope, with Ogon you only need to remove any unattractive leaves.
When it comes to gold that shows off 12 months of the year it is hard to beat the Color Guard yucca. Whether its July and August in Texas, or winter in Georgia, you can rely on the Color Guard yucca for rugged perseverance and incredible beauty.
If you are not familiar with Color Guard it is undoubtedly the best selection of the native Yucca filamentosa. This colorful plant sports native DNA and is cold hardy in zones 4-10. Color Guard yucca is normally seen around two to three feet in height but can reach 6 feet tall, and three feet wide which is perfect for creating garden excitement with its green and gold variegated dagger-like foliage.
As you might expect from a native plant, it is an extremely drought-tolerant plant that requires good drainage. I have grown them planted in raised beds in combination with torch lilies (Kniphofia) and in very non-traditional companionships with tall angels trumpets. You will find the Color Guard will work in almost every imaginable situation—in fall with pansies, during summer with begonias and even with your favorite heuchera. Just be bold and give them a try.
Color Guard’s fragrant white blooms will delight visiting hummingbirds! If you find yourself the proud owner of a roving herd then rejoice as the Color Guard yucca will not become Bambi’s salad.
Proven Winners has more golden-leaved plants than you could ever imagine and these three will not only add the color but provide an extra textural element to both borders and containers. Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.
Ogon Japanese Sweet Flag looks ever so picturesque grown along the edge of this water feature.
Ogon Japanese Sweet Flag gives a grassy element to this mixed container of with Bossa Nova begonias, Goldilocks lysimachia, scaevola and impatiens.
Ogon Japanese Sweet Flag provides the fine leaf texture to this bed with flowering kale and pansies.
Evergold Carex provides the finishing touch to this bed with Diamond Frost euphorbia, Intensia phlox and blue salvia.
As you gaze across this pool the first plants to catch your eye are the three Color Guard Yuccas which add the gold to this bed and is a textural feast for the eyes.
Color Guard Yucca can partner with any other plant you choose, even begonias!
Color Guard Yucca even dazzle when partnered with your favorite heuchera.
This bed looks as though the daggers of the Color Guard Yucca are challenging the golden angel’s trumpet like blooms.
Perennials that perform in the winter may seem like a gardening oxymoron, but I assure you these are the plants that put the 'Holy Wow' in your cool season color whether it’s in a landscape or in mixed containers.
The Garden Guy’s son James is a color design guru in the Columbus GA and Chattahoochee Valley area, and his designs have been bringing out the cameras for quite some time. As I write this, he is placing his orders for plants like Dolce® and Primo® heucheras and believe it or not there are now 21 varieties to choose from.
He will also be ordering Lemon Coral® sedum, Goldilocks lysimachia and Ogon Japanese sweet flag. Sure, he will use pansies, violas and snapdragons, but it is these perennials that add the finishing touch to the masterpiece.
Many gardeners in the South look at photos of heuchera and dream about them. What many do not know is that all of those pages of gorgeous Heuchera varieties (Coral Bells) have their DNA forever linked to natives in the United States. There are some native to Georgia.
James plants varieties like Dolce® 'Spearmint' and Primo® 'Wild Rose' in the fall as a kale or cabbage substitute. You may even find him using the copper-colored sections in hanging baskets as a complement to blue flowered pansies. All winter long their colorful leaves perform magic in the containers.
Then sometime around in mid-April, there is a spring crescendo of color with gorgeous, red coral bells blooms that are welcoming the return of the hummingbirds and other pollinators. A fall planting of heuchera makes a lot of sense and actually, in our zone 8a part of Georgia, fall is usually when we see them for sale at the garden centers but most don’t realize how tough they are for our winter. Even some university recommendations or descriptions talk about the raggedy winter foliage that should be removed just prior to new growth.
This is a good recommendation for spring planted heuchera, but remember James is planting in the fall in great potting soil, and in full sun while I plant mine in April or May in the landscape and in fertile soil with afternoon shade protection.
Goldilocks lysimachia is a must-have spiller plant for containers no matter the season. You may think of them as your lime time on your porch, patio or deck! In the south, they magically turn gold once they have been kissed by cold. In zones 8 and warmer this color usually persists through winter, looking like 24K gold chains partnered with sapphire or ruby-like pansies.
While Goldilocks cascades over the rim of containers, Lemon Coral® sedum gently tumbles. Its looks lush, with soft-needle like foliage that may stay lime or get kissed by gold as temperatures cool. Both Lemon Coral® and Goldilocks are perfect spillers for your cool season designs.
Heuchera varieties Dolce® 'Spearmint' and Primo® 'Wild Rose' show off their beauty in front of Double Play® Candy Corn® spirea at The Landings Shopping Center in Columbus GA.
Primo® 'Wild Rose' heuchera and Double Play® Candy Corn® spirea show off their bold contrast of colors.
Goldilocks lysimachia has become like 24K gold chains after winter’s kiss.
Goldilocks lysimachia and Proven Accents® Pink Chablis® lamium have turned this cool season planter into a work of art.
Lemon Coral® sedum looks like it has a little gold-plated artistry after winter’s kiss in this container designed by James Winter.
As July approaches, so does the peak population of pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. You can make your landscape not only more beautiful for the hottest month of summer, and adding a pollinator habitat would make the outdoors even more enjoyable!The Garden Guy has been helping identify the best pollinator plants for the South from the Proven Winners award-winning selection--here are a few of the champions you need.
Color Coded Coneflowers
The Garden Guy has been growing these for three years. They come in four colors, Orange You Awesome, Yellow My Darling, Frankly Scarlet and The Price is White. These coneflowers are packed with native DNA and will give you wonderful color, summerlong pollinators and most importantly, a green thumb.
The Garden Guy lives in zone 8a and these salvias have been perennials for three straight years. I am growing all of them and I can say if it has a Rockin' name it has been a perennial in Columbus GA. You can expect the hummingbirds to work the salvias all summer long--from the break of day until you can barely see them at dusk.
The surprise to many will be the visitation by butterflies. These salvias will keep pollinator activity to the max.
Truffula Pink Gomphrena
This gomphrena has also been perennial for The Garden Guy and would top the must-have plant list for the pollinator garden. It will be visited by all butterflies and hit on by magical hummingbirds too. At The Garden Guy’s house, it was four swallowtails at a time, and three Zebra longwings at a time which are both like a Haley’s Comet moment! What a show!
The Luscious series of lantanas are highly regarded and often receive awards in the green industry. I love their habit, which for the most part is around thirty inches tall and wide. The Garden Guy is growing Luscious Royale Cosmo, Marmalade, Goldengate, Citrus Blend, and the new Luscious Citron. They too have been perennial in my garden with Luscious Marmalade being the first to return each spring. The Luscious series is treasured by butterflies and will make dazzling partners with the salvias, Meteor Showers verbena and butterfly bushes.
Proven Winners is like the one stop shopping place for buddleia or butterfly bushes. The Garden Guy had never grown any butterfly bushes until planting of several of the Proven Winners varieties. I can never imagine not growing Miss Molly. This certified non-invasive variety has given me more fun this season than I could have ever imagined. I actually place a chair about 8-feet away, with camera in hand and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds. I’ve got the dwarf compact Pugster Blue and Amethyst under planted, as companions to Miss Molly. Then I have further layered it to the front with Truffula Pink gomphrena. Yes, I am a proud pollinator geek! I’ve been writing about all of these plants and you can seem them all by following on Facebook along @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy. Be ready to enjoy the pollinator show!
Old White Columns
Next to a Parterre
Mirrors in the Garden Create Illusion of
Looking in a Window
Fake Door and
Covered Deck and old furniture that has
terra cotta pot handles
Recycling is popular in today’s society, but the idea rarely conjures up visions of beauty. Mention the word and your first thought may be the aluminum can depository or even the blue tubs you place at the curbside for pick up. It seems wherever I go savvy gardeners are making treasures out of items that most of us would never think of including in a garden.
One Mississippi Delta home had a very large garden that was flourishing thanks to soil preparation, which is where my first thoughts of recycling come from. The flowers were all planted on raised beds comprised of soil and what most people call gin trash, a byproduct of the cotton industry.
Throughout the South cotton is still king and gins leave behind this black gold. Trash it isn’t; recyclable it is -- and organic-rich, too. Once it has been composted this product is a gardener’s dream come true. If you have gins in your community, check the pH before planting, as the gin trash tends to be above 7, meaning acid-loving plants like azaleas or camellias will prefer a different mix.
That Delta gardener also took great advantage of old homes and buildings that were being torn down. She would go to great lengths to make sure she had first option on these relics. Her garden included colorful doors and windows used in several places.
A wall separating property lines in her large backyard was built from old lumber. It had a couple of colorfully framed old windows hung on the wall. The windows had mirrors instead of glass. When you look at it directly you think you are looking through a window rather than looking at the garden behind you. The wall was covered with interesting yard art and other recycled treasurers including an old bicycle that belonged to her mother-in-law.
There was a special outdoor room called Margaritaville. Here the colorful 1950’s style red furniture was artfully arranged on a floor of old recycled brick that was hand-laid by the gardener. The moss-covered brick is heirloom in appearance. Then there was the special green door that appeared as if it wanted to be opened. It too had a mirror creating an illusion.
The most unique feature in the garden was the five old white columns lining a more formal parterre garden. These columns came from an old home being torn down and added a ghostly Southern archaeological feel to the garden.
Another home I visited had made wonderful use of an old fireplace mantle in their special outdoor room. It was the perfect complement to a cozy retreat. In front of the mantle there were tropical plants like Black Magic elephant ear, giant taro and philodendron.
What I liked most, however, was a large shutter hanging on the fence close by. The green shutter was hand painted with a colorful flower, serving its purpose much like a fine oil masterpiece would indoors.
One of my all-time favorites was an old chandelier hanging from an oak tree over the deck. Outfitted with candles it created the perfect ambience for eating outside. Treasures like these may be at the old house across the street or across the tracks or even forgotten in your attic. The real point is to not let these items go to waste. If they can’t be used to assist in re-building, they can be incredibly useful in the landscape.
Summer is here and now is the time to survey your own landscape and see if there are some areas you can develop into paradisiacal retreats using not only plants but recycled treasures too.
Chandelier outfitted with candles hanging from Oak
Wide shot of same chandelier
Gazebo used recycled tin for the roof
In side gazebo art station but again recycled shutters
Last year ‘The Garden Guy’ was a participant, if you will, in the Young Plant Farms Flower Trials in Auburn, Alabama. We were all given a book with planting dates and pertinent information to help us make informed decisions about plants. Many of the plants were Proven Winners varieties and new mixed container recipes.
Proven Winners participates in rigorous trial programs conducted at universities across the country. Once the results are in, awards like Leader of the Pack, Perfect Score All-Season, Best of the Best, and Top Performer are handed out and no other company can match the performance of Proven Winners varieties. This is why it is the number one brand in the country.
You might be asking how does it work in the home garden and this is where the rubber meets the road. One of the southern Proven Winners representatives told me how seeing my pictures of the plants in real situations gave him great information--this is his look at the real world.
So, as we look at selecting plants for the long hot summer ahead 'The Garden Guy' wants to share his 240-day list with you. These are plants, flowers, and foliage varieties that performed like the winners they are from early April until the first freeze around November 30. As you will see, these are plants that were blooming on October 19 when the last hummingbird left and yet still provided nectar for butterflies until the freeze.
The Garden Guy grew all Rockin salvias and UnPlugged So Blue and they all were champions until the cold weather hit. The same can be said for Luscious Marmalade, Luscious Royale Cosmo, Luscious Golden Gate, and Luscious Citrus Blend lantanas and Vermillionaire cuphea. The butterfly champion of the long season had to be Truffula Pink gomphrena and it too thrived until the end.
That is rugged perseverance partnered with beauty. They all have one more thing in common and that is that they all returned from a cold winter. It wasn’t a 50 year cold as in Texas Louisiana and Arkansas, but we still saw a lot of hours below freezing. The return was not only a surprise, but the vigor that they have demonstrated in the return has been amazing. In case you are wondering The Garden Guy lives in zone 8A Midland GA.
There were other champions of the long season. Sunstar Red, Pink, and Lavender Pentas provided exceptional color and an affinity for hummingbirds and butterflies. Two groups, often overlooked for the longevity of landscape performance, were the ornamental sweet potatoes and coleus. Sweet Caroline Illusion Emerald Lace sweet potato, ColorBlaze Wicked Hot and ColorBlaze Lime Time coleuses were all photo-worthy in November. These have to be at the top of the list of value for the gardener’s dollar. Gardeners in the South may not have 240 days of performance left for 2021, but planting some of these varieties now will ensure 120-150 days of outstanding performance.
The tropical style garden is about an attitude as much as it is about style. So many us have made those treks across the seas to far off islands where the crystal clear water, fragrant blossoms, and lush surroundings made us forget the stresses of life. Though we might have been there for days, maybe even making more than one trip a year, time was fleeting.
We find ourselves wanting to create that look that feel at home, so that when have fought the four lanes of commuting traffic, after a contentious day at the office we can slip on some cutoffs and head to our corner of paradise in the landscape. This has become our nest, our place to cook, to unwind and even feel a little like the island, “that one particular harbor”.
We can easily create that look at home. It might be as simple as adding some coarse textured foliage in what is already a nice garden. When you look at a banana, Toucan canna, Maui Gold or Illustris elephant you think tropical, it’s kind of like, what you perceive-you are. It’s really kind of magical.
There are so many tropical plants from Proven Winners at today’s garden center that are perfect for the South in that they over winter. They may freeze to the ground and return in the but that’s the nature of many of our regular perennials too. In the North gardeners are used to digging and storing bulbs like cannas and elephant ears.
Even if they are treated as annuals, flaming foliage like the Red Sister cabbage palm or Hawaiian Ti or the silver and purple from the Persian Shield will have you hearing the sound sounds of steel drums in the distance.
Another factor is summer heat. When the stifling temperatures have sent you indoors where it is much cooler guess what plants are looking good out in the garden. More than likely they are tropical plants. Our long growing season lets you get maximum value for your gardening dollar.
Take for example, a city like Baltimore that has around 238 days of frost-free weather or Louisville, Kentucky with 220 days and of course longer in the South. This means for over 7 months we can all look like Martinique, this is your ‘Staycation”.
Persian Shield next to a Banana Plant
Royale Hawaiian Maui Gold Elephant Ear
Red Sister Cordyline
Rockin’ salvias have quickly risen to the top of the must-have plants list for the Southern Gardener. There are a lot of reasons their popularity has sky rocketed--first, they are drop dead gorgeous with their blue, fuchsia, deep purple and even red tubular flowers.
This dazzling beauty however is gracefully borne atop 40 to 48-inch-tall stalks giving an unbeatable vertical element to the garden. Imagine Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes behind Luscious Marmalade lantanas or Truffula Pink gomphrena. Rockin’ Fuchsia behind Luscious Royal Cosmo lantana is a dreamy partnership. The combinations are only limited by your imagination, you are the Monet of the garden.
The Rockin’ salvias however are the key to your wild kingdom, your own backyard Serengeti. The Garden Guy lives in zone 8A and my Rockin’ salvias have already returned for the third year. Last year will demonstrate what The Garden Guy experienced and the illusion that he was on Safari all growing season.
On April 10th, I photographed my first hummingbird of the year feeding on Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes. Soon they were feeding on all the selections of Rockin’ salvias. The garden was never without hummingbirds and I photographed the last one on October 19th, oddly feeding on the Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes. Amazingly that is over 190 days of hummingbirds, on plants!
The story doesn’t end October 19th. Butterflies found the Rockin’ salvias to also be a delicacy. Swallowtails, Sulphurs, Monarchs were all photographed feeding, but the National Geographic moment occurred when the rare Zebra heliconians started feeding on Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes and Rockin’ Golden Delicious pineapple sage. The last zebra was seen feeding on November 26. This means The Garden Guy had Rockin’ salvias blooming for approximately 240 days before a December 1st frost. You can do it too!
Sunlight and fertile well-drained soil will give you the green thumb when it comes to growing the Rockin’ salvias. We can all celebrate that they are not on the deer menu. The growing season is young, some of you will say it hasn’t arrived, regardless you have a great opportunity to grow Rockin’ salvias for the blooms, birds and butterfly season of your dreams. Follow me on Facebook@NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.
Want to learn more about plants for hot, dry climates?
- Have a window box that gets sun scorched on a daily basis? Here are 16 annuals that can take the heat.
- Save pins from this Pinterest board featuring drought tolerant plants.
- Watch this video of our Top 10 Shrubs for Hot Climates