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.
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.
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