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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. 

Norman Winter
‘The Garden Guy’

Horticulturist, Author, Speaker

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Urbanization of the Vegetable Garden
Hottest Trend in the Country

Photos by Sarah Winter

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.
Winterberry, known botanically as Ilex verticillata, is native over a large area of the United States encompassing 33 states, and much of Canada. It feeds at least 20 species of birds and has been in cultivation since 1736. That’s heirloom status in my book.
When the leaves fall it will still make an incredible display with uncountable bright red berries ripening for Cedar Waxwings, Mockingbirds and Cardinals. It is also known to be a valuable food source for Bobwhite Quail, Ruffled Grouse, and Ring-neck Pheasant in their native ranges.
I sometimes wonder why it is not more readily planted. Could, it be it's because they are deciduous?  If you will pause and think, deciduous is not bad. You love the shimmering white blossoms of the sweetspire and oakleaf hydrangea, the cheerful yellow blooms of the forsythia. Why not gladly accept this holly that adorns itself with thousands of bright orange, red and even gold berries perfect for the Christmas season?
The berries persist for a long time on the branches, making it a great choice for bringing indoors for arrangements in a dried vase or included on the mantle for an old-fashioned farmhouse Christmas. Though I am touting gold foliage and bright red fruit, please note that there are other varieties, some with gold berries.

Proven Winners offers Berry Heavy Red and Berry Heavy Gold as well as Mr. Poppins for pollination. You’ll want at least one male for each 10 female selections. Regardless of the varieties you choose, plant in sun to partial sun and in the same places you might plant a crape myrtle. Use them to frame entryways for special accents or along driveways and around the patio. Anywhere the landscape looks drab in the winter is a great place for the winterberry holly to brighten. These will be shrub-like in form reaching 5 to 8 feet in height.
One well-known horticulturist and friend wrote "you could garden for 12 lifetimes and never see an insect or disease bothering the plant". Our berries are sure to get stripped by a host of birds but I think you will agree these are the type of invaders we are happy to see.
The dormant season is an incredible time to plant, as you shop your garden center they will be easy to find, they are the ones loaded with berries.

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.

Horse Troughs of Tantalizing Texture Create Winter 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.



Gold Foliage and Texture An Unbeatable Garden Combination


Ogon Japanese Golden Sweet Flag

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.

Evergold Japanese Carex ‘Sedge’

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.


Color Guard Yucca ‘Native DNA’

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 Can Add the Finishing Touch in Winter

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.

In this container Proven Winners® Goldilocks lysimachia, Burgundy Glow ajuga and Ogon Japanese Sweet flag show off the power of foliage in the cool season container.


Peak Pollinator Season is Here

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.

Rockin' Salvias

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!

Luscious Lantanas

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.


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!

Recycled Treasures Create Garden Beauty

Old White Columns
Next to a Parterre 

Mirrors in the Garden Create Illusion of
Looking in a Window

Fake Door and
Fake Window

Hand Painted
Shutter Art


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


Winning in the Home Landscape with the Leaders of the Pack


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.




Your Tropical Style - Staycation is all about Attitude

Coarse textured foliage like Bananas are Drama Queens in the Landscape

Illustrious Elephant Ear transforming a patch of zinnias

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


The 2021 Must Have Plant List

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.


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