Annuals have taken a bad rap in the garden business for several years now. The idea of having to buy, plant and then rip out specimens is not chic. But then elegant daffodil bulbs, thrown behind one’s back each autumn to give us a big spring surprise is never considered out of style. And hugely thirsty perennials are popular even in areas such as California, which is never without a summer water crisis. So I write in praise of a particular annual that has given my family a lot of pleasure for several decades. I write of Impatiens.
These are hardy and tender annual and perennial herbs from Asia, North America, and South Africa, sometimes known as Touch-me-nots. These plants have thick stems and light green leaves. Their flowers come in a wide range of colors including rose, rose-red, rose-purple, white, pink, and salmon. A minimum winter temperature of 55 degrees is required, which is why we love them in California, Hawaii and Mexico. As border plantings, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Properly planted, they grow in waves so magnificent that the eye feels like it is taking a trip across a pink, red, orange, purple and white ocean crest.
According to top horticulturists, a beautiful tender kind to grow is I. Oliver. This plant is the largest flowered of the Balsams (annual Impatiens). It will flower when 18 to 20 inches high in 6-inch pots. When they're moved into larger pots and fed with weak liquid fertilizer, this plant will grow 6 to 8 feet high. The pale lilac flowers are 2½ inches across. This plant flourishes in a cool greenhouse and may be placed outdoors in the summer. Balsamina, the common annual Balsam, is suitable for growing in pots in a cool greenhouse and for planting outside during the summer. Two strains of annual double-flowered Balsam are known as the Rose-flowered and Camellia-flowered, so named because of the shape of the flowers. The colors may be scarlet, red and salmon-pink, rose, cerise, mauve, purple, violet and white. Hardy Impatiens, such as Impatiens bi-flora (Jewelweed), are found wild over a wide range in eastern North America. It grows 3-4 feet high and has ovate, toothed leaves. Its yellow flowers are spotted with red. Self-sown seedlings may become a nuisance if they aren't controlled. An annual that is useful for naturalizing and that spreads by self-sown seeds is the Himalayan Impatiens Roylei. This plant grows 4 to 8 ft. high and produces white to purple flowers.
When growing Impatiens, the best soil mixture to use consists of two parts fibrous loam, one part leaf mold or peat moss, with plenty of coarse sand added. When potting the annual Balsams, it's important to encourage free and fast growth by providing a rich, light soil containing leaf mold, decayed manure, or compost. Sun and shadow are also important factors in the success of Impatiens. We buy then as young plants and plant them ourselves. We plant huge amounts as borders in order to create this “wave” effect.
There is never a summer month that goes by without cars stopping so that pasengers can look and comment upon our Impatiens.
It can be a bit of a backache to do the spring planting, but by August you will have that incredible wave of warm summer color, and the special pride that only gardeners know.