'Queen Mum' agapanthus. Photo: PDSI

As the South's foremost advocate for rewarding gardening, Grumpy is always on the lookout for new plants that will make your gardening experience even more exhilarating than lunch with Al Gore. Get ready to be wowed by these uber-wonderful newcomers to our Southern Living Plant Collection.

"Hold on!" you say. "You're shilling for your own plant collection! Isn't that a conflict of interest?"

Well, of course, it is -- but you should know by now that I never let principle stand in the way of a lively blog. Besides, I feel deeply in my moldy, plaque-filled heart that these are excellent plants you're going to love.

Uber-Wonderful Plant #1 -- 'Queen Mum' Agapanthus Agapanthus, also called lily-of-the-Nile, is of those plants people see in California, Florida, and along the Gulf Coast that they fruitlessly covet because it won't take their cold winters back home. In this regard, 'Queen Mum' (above) rules! It's hardy down to 10 degrees. In late spring and summer, 3-foot stems rise from clumps of strap-like leaves crowned by clusters of white and violet-blue flowers the size of softballs. This perennial is great for flower beds and containers. It needs full to part-sun, tolerates drought, and deer won't eat it. If it still won't take winter in your area, grow it in a pot and take it indoors.

Uber-Wonderful Plant #2 -- 'Big Daddy' Hydrangea


Gardeners have been inundated with repeat-blooming French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) lately, so why do we need one more? Because this one, 'Big Daddy,' has blooms the size of your head! (Not my head, of course. No flower is that big.) They're about twice the size of an 'Endless Summer.' Size matters. 'Big Daddy' is hardy to -10 degrees and grows about 5-6 feet tall and wide. Flowers are blue in acid soil, pink in alkaline soil, and mixed in near-neutral soil.

Uber-Wonderful Plant #3 -- 'Puckered Up' Elephant's Ear

emPhoto: PDSI/em

Looking for a colorful foliage plant that's utterly smoochable? 'Puckered Up' gets more kisses than Richard Dawson on "Family Feud." Unlike boring, old green-leafed elephant's ear, it offers deeply puckered, chocolate-purple leaves that are so glossy they look wet. Can you imagine planting this in a big container or combining it with yellow, chartreuse, or (hyperventilating now) orange? Lordy! 'Puckered Up' grows 3-4 feet tall and wide. You can leave it in the ground over winter in USDA Zones 8-11. North of there, take it inside.

Where To Buy The Southern Living Plant Collection is sold at more than 6,000 garden centers nationwide. Click here to find a participating garden center near you. 'Queen Mum' agapanthus and 'Big Daddy' hydrangea are also available online. Click here.