Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Stars in the Shade: Impatiens

by Eliot Tozer


It lacks the flair of the petunia. It's not as assertive as the marigold, nor as earthy as a begonia. Yet it has increased in popularity every season for more than a decade, and it's now tops in bedding plant sales in the U.S., with growers' revenues exceeding $250,000,000 a year. It is the unassuming but cheerful impatiens.

Small wonder it's number one. Unashamedly floriferous, its blossoms come in nearly as wide a range of colors and shapes as the orchid, according to Christopher Grey-Wilson, author of The Impatiens of Africa. And it has the good manners to drop its faded petals. No deadheading needed.

Impatiens flowers from May to November, and plants continue to increase in size. I have seen an impatiens plant standing 3 1/2 feet tall and equally wide in a pot on a shady patio. Yet impatiens needs little fertilizer. It's resistant to almost all diseases and shrugs off insects, although the New Guinea impatiens is susceptible to whiteflies and red spider mites.

This versatile plant serves the gardener well in beds and borders. It drapes nicely from hanging baskets and makes a fine display in containers.

"The impatiens," says Mike Hefner, plant breeder at Bodger Seeds, Ltd., "is the near-perfect plant."

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