Fresh Again: Impatiens

October 18, 2009

Impatiens walleriana – commonly know as simply impatiens or busy lizzies seem to inspire extreme opinions.  So utterly common and over used, many designers hate them (me included) but because (I assume the reasons) they are so easy to grow and they tolerate shade, filling it with bright, if not sickly candy colors, impatiens are ubiquitous and a perfect candidate for making Fresh Again.

I admit I have used impatiens in corporate plantings (despite my loathing).  I shy away from the pinks and purples that truly make me sick to my stomach and opt instead for the reds, white and oranges — but I always feel horrible about it.  Like I am cheating on myself.  I really don’t like them but I have have had some success with avoiding them by finding better options, making them less obvious or using a nicer variety.



All impatiens aren’t horrid — case in point (above) – Balfour’s Touch Me Not or Poor Man’s Orchid (Impatiens balfourii or Springbalsemien in Dutch) .  Standing over 3 ft tall and looking like orchids, these impatiens readily self seed and I think this is an excellent case in point — they do have a place in the garden and can be quite pretty.



1. Biancovioletto dell’ impatiens balfourii, 2. Impatiens balfourii

The other alternative is to find some unsung heroes of the shade garden.  I have used impatiens in shady corporate plantings for years — I have mixed them with tropicals like bromeliads – which in Massachusetts is rather unexpected (but not cheap)  –


Or more recently, I have tried to find substitutes.  One that worked relatively well was  Torenia –though not as flashy as impatiens they are certainly more interesting.
1. Torenia, 2. Torenia fournieri (Veronicaceae), 3. แววมยุรา/ Torenia, 4. Torenia 2

I am considering replacing some impatiens next summer with some dwarf Hydrangeas – Pia purportedly only gets to be 3’x3′ so I think I can replace about 10 impatiens with each one of these.


by deb5376

Another option for reducing the use of impatiens in shade gardens is to venture into the unending world of caladiums, coleus and other foliage plants.   There are so many beautiful options and new ones seemed to be introduced every season.


1. Tropical foliage, 2. Greeeeeeen…, 3. Coleus, 4. Seeing Red, 5. Aging with Color, 6. If I had to live over, I would start bearfoot earlier in spring and stay that way later in the fall, I would go to more dance…, 7. Langniappe, 8. Caladiums, 9. Caladiums

Here is my other strategy for taking the dated edge off the masses of impatiens. Don’t put them in masses – mix them with other things and keep the colors the same or in a limited palette.  This way, I find that they fill with color, but rather than being the focus, they are the fill and if mixed with enough things will not be read by the eye.  Here is an example of a shade planting, that uses impatiens in a nice way.

1. mondo grass, 2. Leopard, 3. Variegated grass sea, 4. Deb’s backyard oasis, 5. Waiting Impatiens-ly, 6. varigated ribbon grass, 7. Feather Touch, 8. Hydrangea, 9. Tropical foliage

What do you think?  So many of you were on the edge with impations, have I talked you down?  I think they have a use, and when used right can be Fresh Again don’t you?


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  1. Shelly says:

    I know this is ole and you will probably never see this response..but you are nuts…impatiens are gorgeous little flowers that will thrive in shade with little care but water. I agree that they have a little bit of a “candy” look to them but in a shady area, who doesn’t want a pop of color. I plant them under my tree with Pansies and it’s a sight for my sore eyes when I come home from work.

  2. Tresa says:

    Really? Are you serious??!
    I agree 100% with the comment above by Shelly. Its my love for it that led me to this page. But it led me dumbfounded! Who can ever hate Impatiens? They are such simple plants that aren’t fussy at all and easy to maintain. What little care you give it, is returned tenfold..and someone please tell me what’s so wrong about candy or candy colours in flowers? I am absolutely crazy about these flowers and feel that I will never be contented until I collect all the colours that exist! Never knew it had haters! Highly unlikely that they’re ever gonna find this page!

  3. Tresa says:

    *left me dumbfounded

  4. Tresa says:

    Nice article though. Thanks for the useful information on the other plants. 🙂

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