THE GARDEN GUY: 1,340 reasons to put the Supers together

Superbena Whiteout verbena, Superbells Cherry Red calibrachoa, Supertunia Bordeaux and Saucy Red salvia have been blooming all summer and look dazzling in mid-September. (Norman Winter via TNS)
Superbena Whiteout verbena, Superbells Cherry Red calibrachoa, Supertunia Bordeaux and Saucy Red salvia have been blooming all summer and look dazzling in mid-September. (Norman Winter via TNS)

The Garden Guy has been working on a project, and the number I came up with is 1,340. It is not my address, and the number wasn't the assignment, but part of my own research to help me get started. That number is the total accumulation of awards won by the Supers: Supertunia petunia, Superbells calibrachoa and Superbena verbenas. That is a huge number.

(As an aside, I find it funny that some of my favorites within these divisions — those I would put in the category of GOAT (Greatest of All Time) — don't have any awards, but as a former university horticulture specialist who oversaw the Mississippi Medallion Award, I can understand why; we simply could not trial everything.)

These three divisions — Supertunia petunias, Superbells calibrachoas and Superbena verbenas — deserve to be together. Together they will create award-winning mixed containers, baskets and boxes, just like Acapulco Sun, the Recipe of the Year I presented last week.

To The Garden Guy, this is where the real gardening fun begins. Picking out the color scheme you want to work with, planting the container and bringing it into full bloom is only topped by the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that are sure to arrive.

Proven Winners planting combination recipes are a good place to start getting ideas, but unless you are a savvy online shopper, you will be relegated to picking out plants that are available in your market. If you have progressive garden centers, this will be like going to the candy store. The Proven Winners recipes are also a little like food photography perfection.

The photos that accompany The Garden Guy's column this week show what happens in the real world and what you can expect with your artistically designed containers. By artistic I really mean that you're picking out your favorite color companions.

  photo  This colorful corner features a large container full of next year's Superbells Yellow improved calibrachoa, Supertunia Persimmon petunia, Superbena Royale Chambray, Superbena Whiteout while Superbells Pomegranate Punch calibrachoa is seen in the distance. (Norman Winter via TNS)
I grow the Supers for the most part in containers with really good potting soil. Some of the containers are large and hard for me to pick up; some are small. Choosing a good soil mix in a container that drains freely allows each of the super divisional champs to find happiness together, even if they might have some minor idiosyncrasies.

My favorite container last year was one I can barely pick up. It featured Superbena Royale Chambray verbena. This verbena is one of those blue colors that seems to change not only with maturity, but also with the shifting sun. I've got several pictures that would make you swear they were not the same plant. No matter which you see, the blue is always stunning. The container also has three Superbells varieties: Grape Punch, Tangerine Punch and Yellow. The center plant is the shockingly beautiful new Supertunia Persimmon. My photograph, taken late in the day, shows everything in its richest complementary colors.

I have the exact same container in another area. I might add that in both instances, you can't see the container. It features Superbena Stormburst verbena, which is white with light blue stripes; Supertunia Vista Paradise petunia; Superbells Watermelon Punch calibrachoa; ColorBlaze Lime Time coleus; and Rockin Red dianthus.

Here is a little issue that is to be celebrated and to me why these are champion plants. One of the reasons you can't see the pots is some of the plants give a perennial performance, particularly the verbenas in my zone 8a location in Georgia. But many years I get two growing seasons out of the Superbells calibrachoa. (Arkansas is in zones 6, 7 and 8, with the majority in zone 7.)

This year was the first time I have protected plants and containers in a long time. During the December arctic blast, we hit 11, 16, 17, 22 and 28 degrees on consecutive nights. I decided I would move them once, and for five nights. They were then put back into place in the backyard and have been there ever since. They have received several high 20s days in January and February.

The plants are already covering the containers and starting to send first blooms of Superbenas and Superbells while the Supertunias are growing wildly. I've got plants ordered and will retool and refresh as needed. In the meantime, it's nice to know that each container has a divisional champ or two, maybe even three in it. It is fun to watch on a daily basis to see which bloomer is next.

Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden."

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