A Year of Yowzas! Grumpy’s Best Plants for 2011!

January 5, 2011 | By | Comments (5)

After a week of tortuous self-denial aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, the Grump has returned home more energized, inspirational, and borderline obese than ever before — all to serve YOU, his faithful follower. This week he begins a series of ecstatic revelations to ready you for gardening in the year ahead. Granted, for most of you, the world is now cold and dreary, but take heart. Soon it will be as hot and sweaty as your uncle’s sauna towel. And for that, you’ll need Grumpy’s Best Plant #1 — ‘Cora’ vinca.

Cora Vinca 

When Grumpy first took up residence in his beloved South some seven centuries ago, vinca (also known as “periwinkle” or “pennywinkle” depending on if you wanted a boy winkle or a girl winkle) was a mainstay summer bedding plant. Everybody planted it, because it took heat and drought and just bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. All was groovy, until seed companies made a near-fatal mistake.

They decided to improve it.

Yep, foolproof performance didn’t cut it anymore. Seed companies wanted bigger flowers in more colors. So they bred those things in — and in the process removed all-important disease-resistance. Soon, gardeners across the South reported whole swaths of vincas turning brown, shriveling, and croaking overnight. Gardeners were upset.

The culprit? A soil-borne disease called aerial Phytophthora that kills these new, pretty vincas faster than a lunch of black beans kills a night of romance. It’s particularly virulent on hot summer days when downpours drench heavy clay soil. Aerial Phytophthora becomes burial Phytophthora. Vinca, we hardly knew ye.

Now For the Good News

There’s a new vinca series out called ‘Cora.’ Not only does it combine large, beautiful flowers and glossy, green leaves, it also resists Phytophthora. Southern gardening gurus such as Jimmy Turner at the Dallas Arboretum  and Barry Fugatt at the Tulsa Garden Center  (where Grumpy photographed the ones above) have trialed it in their inferno-like haunts and give it rave reviews. Once again, vinca blooms and blooms and blooms all summer. And you don’t have to live in the South to grow it.

‘Cora’ vinca currently offers seven colors — apricot, pink, burgundy-red, lavender, deep lavender, purple, and white. Plants grow 14 to 16 inches tall, spread about 24 inches, and need no deadheading. Space them about 14 inches apart and provide full sun and well-drained soil with NO CLAY. After your plants are established, water sparingly. Plants wilting in sun after a rain? Don’t water. Plants wilting in the early morning when it’s been dry? Water.

Where to Get ‘Cora’ Vinca

Don’t get your shorts in a knot yet. These tropical plants from Madagascar won’t be in garden centers until spring. They prefer warm soil, so wait to plant until a week or two after your last frost. No, you can’t buy plants through the mail. You have to buy plants at your favorite neighborhood garden or home center or order seeds from Swallowtail Garden Seeds.  ASK FOR THEM BY NAME. Print out this blog and show the retailer what you want. Better yet, take it to him now and tell him you’ll be back.

Grumpy will be watching.

Next on Grumpy’s 2011 List: The best “purple bush” for your home.


  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Your entreaty has softened Grumpy’s withered heart. He has located a mail-order source for you — Swallowtail Garden Seeds (http://www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com/annuals/vinca.html). Good luck!

    January 21, 2011 at 10:39 am
  2. SusannaS

    So you can’t grow them from seed? There are a lot of companies out there trying to sell seeds – those bums! I’ll be patient, though, beg my local gardening center to order some, and tell them “Grumpy sent me”!

    January 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    These vincas should be available this year. NC, try growing the vincas in containers.

    January 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm
  4. NCPotteryGardener

    How can you taunt and tease me like this? These are gorgeous! Spectacular! Covet-worthy! And, I can’t have them! Waah.
    In our yard, we can dig the “soil” out, do nothing to it and use it in our home pottery studio. (Turning heavy clay into something hospitable for plants has been my on-going activity for the last 5 years…)
    Promise you’ll have a few gems in this series for acidic clay soil!

    January 8, 2011 at 11:14 am
  5. Henry H.

    Yea hard to beat Vinca. I’m doing all my annual color with Vinca next year. You just can’t beat the blooming and durability.
    Speakin of print this out and take it to your retailer, any chance on getting S.L. to reduce the time gap between introduction in print and when this stuff actually becomes available??
    Be my hero Steve, be my hero……..

    January 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

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