Grow Abundant Garden Balsam

Get acquainted with this long-beloved plant’s alluring appearance, varied uses, and delightful longevity in the garden.

Photo by Rebecca Martin

Like most gardening households, mine occasionally gets taken in by a seed mix’s promise of paradise. Most of the time, the yield is disappointing: a few unhappy plants instead of the blanket of blooms and lush foliage pictured on the packet. And we swear we’ll never fall for the hype again.

Despite this checkered past, my husband sowed a shade mix last summer in a partly sunny bed with average soil. A few weeks later, we had a thick stand of … something. As the days passed, the seedlings’ stems lengthened and turned red, and sawtooth-edged leaves unfolded. We nearly pulled up the unfamiliar plants, but decided to wait because they didn’t look like any weeds we knew.

After a couple of months, these odd plants burst into a vivid display of fuchsia, violet, pale-pink, and white blossoms. Some quick research showed us this flower was Impatiens balsamina. Its common names include “garden balsam,” “lady’s slipper” (a different plant from lady’s slipper orchids), and “touch-me-not.” Our little plot of balsam put on an impressive show for weeks, until the stalks loaded up with seedpods and the plants stopped blooming.

A Much-Loved Cultivar

The genus name Impatiens is familiar to many gardeners as I. walleriana, the most popular annual flower in U.S. gardens today. But our grandparents and great-grandparents knew and loved I. balsamina. The original Impatiens flower, I. balsamina was considered an essential bedding plant until the mid-20th century, when hybrid I. walleriana came onto the scene.

Photo by Rebecca Martin



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