Dubbed the number one shade annual, impatiens take their scientific name from the Latin for "impatient", which refers to the way that they shoot out their seed from their turgid seed pods. They are the largest member of the balsam family, and brighten the garden with their hot colors and quick spread. In fact, it's not unnatural to see mass plantings of impatiens act as a sort of groundcover in a border garden.

Impatiens are native to many parts of the world, including North and Central America and most of Asia. The one place you won't find them is South America. One of the most prolific varieties, "Elfin", was brought to Europe by Claude Hope from Costa Rica. They have been popular since the Victorian era. Some varieties of impatiens can be used as a remedy against poison ivy and other skin irritations. Supposedly the juice from stems can be frozen and then rubbed on the sore or itchy spot.

This is a delightfully colorful flower that tops a stem with pointed, sword-like dark green leaves. The blossoms can be purple, red, pink, orange, white or bicolored, which means you have several options when placing them within your landscape design. The plant can grow to a height of 36 inches and spread to 24 inches. It should be planted once the soil has warmed, and should be spaced approximately 18 inches apart.

Growing Impatiens

Impatiens do well in partial to full shade, but some varieties will tolerate full sun if the soil is kept moist. Plant your impatiens in a fertile, humus-rich soil that's moist, but well-drained. If you are propagating from seed, make sure that the seed isn't covered by groundcover, as it grows better exposed to the light.

Recommended Varieties

There are many different varieties of impatiens, but the most popular is arguably "Busy Lizzie", which grows and flowers copiously in full shade. "New Guinea" grows well in the sunshine and has beautiful variegated leaves and bright flowers. "Balsam Impatiens" have several lovely cultivars that come in purple, white or red. These varieties of impatiens can be found at your local garden center.

Landscape Design Tips

Impatiens are extremely versatile in nearly every setting, from container gardens to borders. They especially look beautiful in beds ringing trees. Ensure that impatiens have enough room to spread out.

Gardening Zones

Impatiens are hardy in zones 3 to 11.

Pests and Problems

Impatiens can suffer from leaf spot and blight, powdery mildew, root problems, aphids, and thrips.