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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. The goal of the trials was to find those plants that could persevere and thrive in the heat and humidity. 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.

In his role with Proven Winners, Norman is trialing varieties selected for the Heat is On program which features plants that are recommended especially for the South. He is looking for plants that are more than just beautiful--they need to be tough and rugged to endure the southern heat and humidity. In addition to growing Proven Winners in his gorgeous home garden, Norman will also be coordinating plantings on commercial properties. This will give us a better idea of how our plants handle the reflective heat from pavement, hardscaping, roads and buildings.

Norman is especially passionate about Proven Winners plants that are champions for pollinating bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, which he photographs with amazing precision and beauty. You will find us featuring his photos on our social media pages often. Truffula Pink Gomphrena is one of Norman’s favorite plants for pollinators. Annuals with tropical flair like Heart to Heart caladiums are also favorites.

Norman Winter
‘The Garden Guy’

Horticulturist, Author, Speaker

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The tight habit of Sweet Carolina Medusa Green is such that it could be used as a standalone or monoculture similar to a Boston fern. (Photo courtesy of Raker-Roberta’s Young Plant Trials.)

The habit and texture of Sweet Carolina Medusa Green ornamental sweet potato allows it to be a most striking companion plant such as in the basket with Superbells Blue Moon Punch calibrachoa and Supertunia Royal Velvet petunia. (Photo courtesy of Raker-Roberta’s Young Plant Trials.)

Sweet Caroline Medusa Green - Taking the Garden World by Storm

It’s fun to see what all of the horticultural pundits write about after the plant trials run their course across the country.  I can tell you that Medusa was, and still is, the talk of the town. I know you are already wondering Medusa who, and does she have snakes coming out of her head? The answer is NO and she is Sweet Caroline Medusa Green ornamental sweet potato.

Obviously ‘The Garden Guy’ is one of these pundits and the most shocking thing to me is that Proven Winners could come up with a new sweet potato that has us all writing about. After all, they have 17 varieties in every shape of leaf and color. I always will be completely sold on their Illusion group because of their tight structure but hold your hat, Medusa’s habit is even tighter.

As you are probably guessing there is a reason the Medusa name is most appropriate. Each leaf has 7 long lobes or fingers if you will, hence the reference to our monster of Greek mythology. But, as I have already told you this is no monster, it is not the kudzu of ornamental sweet potatoes.

Sweet Caroline Medusa Green ornamental sweet potato’s foliage is comprised of 7 fingers or lobes hence the reference to Medusa from Greek mythology. (Photo courtesy of Raker-Roberta’s Young Plant Trials.)


While I have touted Illusion Emerald Lace, saying it could probably be in a hanging basket as a Boston fern substitute, the Sweet Carolina Medusa Green really can and be even better. In fact, if you look at the photo progressions online from the Raker-Roberta’s Young Plant trials in Michigan you’ll see how totally wonderful this new variety is. These photos and perfect score will sell you on this plant for sure.

Sweet Caroline Medusa Green is typical in sweet potato height but only spreads to about 30 inches. Just imagine a hanging basket combined with Superbells Blue Moon Punch and Supertunia Royal Velvet petunia. Not only is it a color scheme with wonderful contrasts but it becomes a textural feast for the eyes as well.

It has been about 25 years since ornamental sweet potatoes started showing up at garden centers taking the plant world by storm and now in 2021, we can celebrate the arrival of Sweet Caroline Medusa Green. It is a great time to be a gardener!






Put Your Garden in Blooming Rhythm With Stunning Daylilies

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is finding his feast on a Rainbow Rhythm Orange Smoothie daylily.

A hungry Eastern Tiger swallowtail butterfly gave ‘The Garden Guy’ a lesson a couple of days ago and that is, everyone loves an orange smoothie in the summer. As you might suspect I am playing with you, but just a little.

This year I planted daylilies for the first time in years. While I was the director of University of Georgia’s Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah, GA I was amazed to see what daylily hybridizing was accomplishing. The American Hemerocallis Display Garden showed some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet.

This year was ‘The Garden Guy’s’ time to put the daylily to test, so to speak, but in a different manner than in Savannah. First, those daylilies were mostly regional. In other words, they were developed and sold locally by some of the area’s best breeders and daylily farms, which is absolutely fine. A daylily collector or enthusiast could track these down but the average Joe Gardener would find it tough to buy at the local garden center.

This Rainboow Rhythm Storm Shelter is part of five clumps surrounding a golden needled Fluffy arborvitae.

So, this year I wanted to try some of the massed produced varieties so to speak and selected several of the Rainbow Rhythm group from Proven Winners. As you may already be guessing Rainbow Rhythm Orange Smoothie was one of my chosen selections.

On that day while I was doing a butterfly hunt in my landscape and checking out buddleias and every other plant a butterfly would want. I looked back behind me and was shocked to see the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail had chosen the daylily.

One of my Rainbow Rhythm Orange Smoothie clumps had 7 flowers opened at once and the Eastern Tiger went to each and every one. It looked like a ‘slurpfest’ as he dug in deep. I’ve seen a few butterflies and hummers hit on daylilies before but this action was worthy of a video.

Rainbow Rhythm Sound of My Heart made it debut this year and looks like a competition quality daylily.

The flower petals are Orange Mango in color with a light rose band, pink mid-rib and a green throat all reaching 4-inches wide. The scapes will reach about 2-feet tall and boasts a high 32 bud count. It is also known to be a rebloomer.

I have always wanted to create a tropical garden incorporating daylilies and in another area of the landscape I am doing just that with Rainbow Rhythm Tiger Swirl. This is a huge daylily reaching 6 ½ inches in a triangular shape. They are golden yellow with a raspberry red eye. The bottom sepals twist giving a unique if not exotic look.

The scapes or flower stalks are tall reaching 32-plus inches. As companions I have chosen Ice Cream Blue Java banana, Portora elephant ears, milkweeds, Lime Sizzler firebush and a tall candlestick plant.

Rainbow Rhythm Orange Smoothie reaches 24-inches tall and has a high bud count on scapes or stalks.

In another area of the landscape I am growing Rainbow Rhythm Storm Shelter which is mauve with a purple eye and yellow green throat. If that is not enough it has a picoted edge. I am also growing year’s new introduction, Rainbow Rhythm Sound of My Heart. These flowers are pastel pink with a wine purple eye and yellow green throat. It has ruffled edges.  Each variety produces 5-inch flowers and are clustered around a golden needled Fluffy arborvitae. These two varieties will make you think you should enter the local daylily competition.

There are eleven colors or selections to choose from in the Rainbow Rhythm group. I promise you will want several. They are easy to grow requiring at least six hours of direct sunlight each day for best performance. Best results are obtained from raised beds rich in organic matter.

Perhaps you haven’t tried daylilies because the flowers only last a day. Remember, each scape or flower stalk has many buds as I mentioned above and these open in a series, giving you beauty for not only days but also weeks and even months as they repeat.

One warning, if you grow the Rainbow Rhythm daylilies your neighbors may get jealous and even think you’ve secretly become a Master Gardener. Follow me on Facebook for more gardening fun @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.



This Little Indigo Petunia will Steal Your Heart

New at the garden center this year is one of those petunias a rare jewel of a color. It’s one that catches your eye and stops you in your tracks, it is Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo. By all means don’t let the mini throw you for even a second. This is the little indigo that could, or should I say it does, deliver riveting beauty and maximum performance in the landscape or mixed containers.

You have to love indigo. If you asked me, is it a little blue or a little violet, I would answer yes. Throughout the day you’ll see both, it will dumfound and confuse you all while you are falling passionately in love with it. A word of caution goes with this plant. When you see it for sale at the garden center make that the instant you put it in your cart. Don’t ponder or go to the next aisle as you think about it, or it will be gone.

So, you may be thinking what is a Supertunia Mini Vista. It is a petunia that will typically reach 12-inches tall and spread 24-inches versus the Supertunia Vista that can reach 2-feet tall and spread 48-inches. The Mini Vista flowers are also slightly smaller. The Supertunia Mini however packs great vigor and perseverance allowing it to excel in the landscape or containers.

Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo though new to the garden center this year has racked up an impressive two dozen awards in University Trials across the country. A few of the most noteworthy are Best Petunia Penn State, Top Performer Texas Tech, Perfect Score All Season Oklahoma State.

Just like the rainbow needs indigo, your garden needs it too. If you ask your favorite search engine what is the opposite color of indigo, you most likely will find answers like orange, yellow and even chartreuse. These all sound good to ‘The Garden Guy’, I’m not sure there is a color of flower that will clash with this little indigo.

This year I watched my color guru son James, combine it with Rockin Golden Delicious pineapple sage, and in another area, he paired it with Snow Princess sweet alyssum and Calliope red geraniums for a red white and blue theme. The one that surprised me and looked as celebratory as Carnival in Rio was his partnership with Calliope red geraniums and Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana that itself, is a kaleidoscope of ever-changing color. I keep shooting photos of this one trying to do it justice.

All of the plantings are in fertile organic rich soil, and if they are in containers, I assure you they are the best James can get his hands on. It will be a long hot summer and the key to the green thumb is how brown it first gets in soil preparation.

Feeding these workhorse flowers will be important if you want them lasting until pansy planting time. Since containers get watered daily it stands to reason that fertilization is regular regimen. This most often is accomplished as part of the water process using water soluble fertilizer.

One of the most critical horticultural techniques over a long hot summer is cutting them back. This may be right after the July 4th celebration and even in again in mid- August. Don’t be afraid to remove up to 20 percent and to keep the food coming. They can survive the Dog Days and look good going into fall.

While ‘The Garden Guy’ has fallen madly in love with Supertunia Mini Vista Indigo know there are seven colors in the Proven Winners Supertunia Mini Vista group. So, your passion may be Supertunia Mini Vista Sangria, Morning Glory or others. The season is young so make this the weekend you get out and do some flower planting! Follow me on Facebook @NorrmanWinterTheGardenGuy.



Use Color Echoes In the Landscape to Create Visual Magic


Calliope Red geraniums match perfectly echoing the red of the doors to this restaurant.

Oh, the possibilities with that Wicked Witch! Son James dazzled me again with a combination planting featuring this year’s hot new ColorBlaze Wicked Witch coleus and Canary Wing begonia. Immediately I noticed his carefully intentioned 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.

ColorBlaze Wicked Witch Coleus looks sensational as it echoes the lime green of Canary Wing begonias.

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 calibracha 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 provide evergreen structure, but flowers like Blue My Mind

Illusion Emerald Lace ornamental sweet potato echoes the lime green
of the colorful pictket fence.


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 hand made 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.

The lime green of Goldilocks lysimachia in the disatnce echoes the color of the majectic looking Everillo carex grass in the foreground planter.

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 a 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 cool season coming up I want to share a trick we did while I was the Director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden. I would like to give credit to Jamie Burkhardt who was Director of Horticulture at the time. There is a deep love for coral bark dogwoods which show out their wood in the winter.

The soft orange apricot color of the door is brought to life even more thanks to the echoing colors of the Superbells Dreamsicle calibrachoa, Vermillionaire cuphea and Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana.

In large urns and pottery filled with pansies and other cool season flowers Jamie would echo the color of the blossoms with painted branches that had been pruned from trees. So, imagine pink petunias and purple pansies looking as if there was a hot pink bark dogwood, or in another, branches of purple and yellow in the containers with purple and yellow pansies.

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.


AquaPots Combine Elegance and Self-watering Freedom

Labor Day Weekend is upon us and perhaps you would like to head to the mountains, hike on the Appalachian Trail or lay on a white sand beach but love for your mixed containers trumps everything. The solution to this recurring dilemma is you are in need of some AquaPots.

Whether it is the porch,
patio or deck the AquaPot provides beauty and
self-watering freedom.

The Labor Day forecast has many gardeners with heat indices in the triple digits and feeling a little bit like a patio prisoner. Afterall it is gardening that has literally brought many of through the Covid-19 era. It is our passion and our love and the perfect arrival time for some innovation when it comes to self-watering containers.

If you have not heard of the AquaPot, just know it is a ‘Game Changer’. These containers that come in various sizes, shapes, and colors, have science in their self-watering design partnered with artisan handcrafted construction. To say these, combine beauty with heavy duty is an understatement.

Incredibly though, these Proven Winners containers allow you to water and go on a long weekend or even a week’s vacation returning to ‘STUNNINGLY ALIVE’ flowers. Professional large sized containers actually give weeks in between watering.

The glazed ceramic containers are hand crafted allowing them to add a true touch of elegance wherever they are used. The ingenious self-watering concept is based on a water-holding reservoir in the lower chamber of the pot with a soil holding shelf in the upper chamber. The water wicks up to the soil and plant’s root zone via a cylinder that connects the chambers.

AquaPots give front door elegance for mixed containers without fear of water stains and fertilizer residue.

One last device that you will love is a tube hidden by the flowers that allows you to insert water-soluble fertilizer, followed by a water hose for the weekly filling. No longer will you splash soil all over the patio or ruin flowers with the force of fire-hydrant-like water pressure. No water or fertilizer stains on the patio or deck either! If, you think you might add too much water, forget it, there is an escape hole.

No amount of mechanical skill or reasoning is required to put together, zero zip, nada. The Garden Guy is a horticulturist and was absent the day mechanical skills were passed out. Give me a curtain rod to hang and hyperventilation commences. Trust me I put mine together in mere seconds.

The AquaPot at The Garden Guy's house features Hot Coral SunPatiens, Lemon Coral Sedum and  is framed by the tropical Royal Hawaiian Maui Gold elephant ear.

Planting is exactly the same as in any other container. Just like I have always written, don’t skimp when it comes to the quality of your potting soil. It needs to be light, fluffy and the best.

I was visiting via computer with Jenny Simpson who along with husband Jerry, own Creekside Nursery in Dallas, NC She told me they were extremely impressed and happy with how the AquaPots have performed in North Carolina gardens. She said they provided consistent water and food to the plants who love their new homes.

Jenny has reached ‘Rock Star’ status in the Southeast with her educational videos. I would urge you to watch all of them and especially the AquaPot demonstration. You’ll find these on the Creekside Nursery, Inc. Facebook page.

AquaPots add beauty and a new found freedom when it comes to watering the plants we love. It also gives you confidence, maybe for the first time, that you are supplying the water and fertilizer just at the right moment, which is as the plants need it. Go to Proven Winners AquaPots to see all the choices available, and to find you closest retailers and purchasing options. Follow me on Facebook @normanWinterTheGardenGuy for even more ideas and photos for inspiration.

Fluffy® the Golden Conifer Of Your Dreams


Fluffy arborvitae has the ability to light up a Southern landscape with its golden needles.

The weather forecast has several days with morning lows in the 50’s which is a cause for celebration. We can look for those long-lost fleece vests and even better it gives horticulturists like ‘The Garden Guy’ the ticket to forget flowers a week and write about a new golden conifer called Fluffy.

There is nothing that adds a thrill to the winter landscape quite like conifers and I’ll be the first to admit I have been doing a conifer happy dance all summer even through staggering heat. You see ‘The Garden Guy’ added nine Fluffy arborvitaes to the landscape, months ago and I love them.

Fluffy is a great new variety of Thuja plicata known as western red cedar or western arborvitae. Those of you in the South may be thinking ‘Danger Will Robinson’ from the standpoint of our sweltering heat.

This photo shows the extraordinary color potential of Fluffy arborvitae.

When I was Director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah I fell in love with all sorts of conifers, Chamaecyapris, Cedrus, Cephalotaxus, Cryptomeria and Cupressus to name just a few. It ignited an unquenchable passion for conifers.

So Fluffy, which offers drop dead gorgeous golden-needle like foliage was simply more than I could pass up. When I told my wife, I had nine conifers coming by truck the look was not one of glee. She grew up in East Texas and the only conifers she appreciates are tall pines.

If you look at Fluffy on Proven Winners website you will immediately want one or in my case I that number was nine. It is hard to imagine a prettier small conifer than Fluffy. With nine, I knew I had the opportunity to give it the full sun in Oregon treatment and work my way down to the various shades of sunlight. First, know that everywhere I have planted it has thrived.

Fluffy's golden chartreuse foliage will partner well with blue hydrangeas seen in the distance and re-blooming azaleas too.

In the full sun, the foliage is gold. The more shade, the foliage is more chartreuse with gold tips. These, light up this filtered sunlit garden, where it is partnered with blue hydrangeas, azaleas and loropetalums. Nearby there are also spreading plum yew which are indeed conifers too, but I am not telling.

The late August afternoon sun at The Garden Guy's house shows the bright gold of Fluffy partnered with ColorBlaze Wicked Hot coleus.

In my almost full sun area, I combined Fluffy with a patch of Blue Rug juniper. This partnership should mature into a real picture and opens the door for more dwarf conifer acquisitions. In the meantime, however I used the new ColorBlaze Wicked Hot coleus as a backdrop. This coleus always looks as though it is a glowing ember of fire which contrasts wonderfully with Fluffy’s golden needles.

In my last treatment I am using Fluffy as the backdrop to a dry creek that does indeed flow during monsoonal rains. In between the creek which is a work in progress I have 15 daylilies. This area gets full morning sun until about 1pm. These Fluffy have colored up with a lot more gold than the filtered azalea area.

Fluffy is recommended for zones 5a-8b, reaching 5 to 10-feet in height with a spread of 5-feet. It naturally develops that conical or Christmas tree shape. If your soil is tight, heavy clay and not well drained, then plan on amending it with 3 to 4-inches of organic matter and work the bed to a depth of 8 to 10-inches. The best idea might be to copy what the commercial landscapers do, planting on raised beds accomplished by bringing in a prepared soil mix.

This Fluffy arbovitae shows the chartreuse needles with gold tips that develop in a part-sun or filtered sunlight garden.

Even though good drainage is paramount, water will be necessary to allow the conifers to maintain their health and appearance and to get roots acclimated and expanded in your bed. Be sure and add a good layer of mulch to keep soil temperatures moderate, conserve moisture and deter weed growth.

Fluffy has the ability to create excitement in the garden, or in large containers on the porch, patio and deck. Warning, you may just find it ignites a passion for confers in you too! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.


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