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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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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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