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.
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 August 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
Today ‘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 today 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