Instant colour

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New Guinea Impatiens hybrid in the garden of Kathryn Hipkin in Sydney; photo: Kathryn Hipkin

Readers may recall my bemoaning the disappearance of 'busy Lizzy' plants (Impatiens walleriana) a few years ago. I used to have many patches of this simple, cheerful, self-seeding annual in shaded areas of my garden, but all of a sudden, they were gone. The culprit was a fungus disease (impatiens downy mildew) that basically wiped out busy Lizzies all over the world. Late last year, in a frenzied last-minute attempt to decorate my shady back verandah for Christmas Day, I decided to invest in some 'instant colour', in the form of some New Guinea dizzy Lizzies - Impatiens hawkeri hybrids. Friends had been telling me for ages how great these plants were for long-lasting colour through the warmer months, but I think I was afraid these plants would also succumb to the disease. The good news appears to be that they are not afflicted by it!

New Guinea Impatiens hybrids look good in pots

Impatiens hawkeri is native to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. They have been popular as a greenhouse plant since the 19th century, but they have been improved by much hybridisation in recent years. They have the same rich, jewel-like flower colours of the original plants and also bloom very well in shade. However, the flowers are larger and more showy, and the plants are more sun-tolerant than their cousins, which wilt dramatically if exposed to direct sunlight. Morning sun seems to be best for the New Guinea varieties; too much sun can apparently be detrimental - though some are marketed as being quite sun-hardy.

New Guinea Impatiens hybrid

The plants have a neat, mounded shape, to a height of 20 to 30 cm. They are perfect for containers - in a big pot, three plants will grow together to form an impressive mass. If grown in a pot set on paving, wooden decking or tiles, it is advisable to sweep away fallen flowers regularly, as these can adhere annoyingly to the surface after a while. They can also be grown in the ground, but do need a rich, moisture-retentive soil. Regular watering is important to keep the plants looking healthy, and regular applications of a water-soluble fertiliser will be much appreciated. Occasional trimming back during the growing season will promote a compact form.

Colours range from bright hot colours of reds and oranges, to cooler hues of white, pinks, cerise and purples. Some of them have interesting foliage as well. They are look very at home grown with semitropical shade-loving plants with exotic foliage, such as Colocasia, Calathea, Iresine and coleus. Depending on how cold winter gets in your area, the plants may need some protection over winter to survive. They shouldn't be pruned until September, even if they look rather ratty. I will be interested to see how mine fare this year. As with coleus plants (which often don't get through winter in my garden), I intend to take cuttings in autumn - these Impatiens don't self-seed. Propagation is as simple as putting a few stems into a vase of water on your kitchen windowsill, and watching them take root!

Reader Comments

  • By Rosibel Costa Rica Monday, 19 January 2015

    Buenos das . Cmo hago para traducir ste texto en espaol ? Entiendo muy poquito el ingls. Gracias por su comprensin y disculpen mi ignorancia . Rosibel - try Google translator - usar traductor. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    I, too, have enjoyed impatiens in the past, but, currently do not have any growing, except the "weedy" one, which seeds readily and is a pretty mauve colour. Unfortunately, its name escapes me, but others will probably know the one I mean. Your words have encouraged me to buy some of the New Guinea varieties, as they certainly provide a welcome splash of colour. Hi Margaret - I used to have that weedy mauve one and quite liked it! Good to know it is not affected by the fungus. Hope you have success with the NG ones if you try them. Deirdre

  • By Densey 2446 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    Yes I too have discovered the brilliant new NG Lizzies and they do well in my NSW mid north coast garden but don"t like too much hot afternoon sun in mid summer. I have also discovered a treasure, long forgotten by me but improved now. Catharanthus roseus AKA Vinca. A lovely little shurub in wonderful colours plus an outstanding white one that lights up my cottage garden. I wish you a wonderful 2015 full of garden surprises and newly discovered old friends! Densey Thanks, Densey. I agree that Catharanthus is a great plant. I must grow it again! Thanks for the tip about the hot afternoon sun on the NG impatiens - even though many are sold as "sun-hardy" I don"t think that means they should be in sun all day long. Deirdre

  • By Kate 2070 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    Perhaps you are writing about Vinca? It still has a spot in my garden but the Impatiens Hawkeri is exceptional by comparison. Kate Glad your impatiens are doing well. Deirdre

  • By John 3030 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    I tried these last year on my back patio. They were fine for a while but then developed a fungus so I have given up on them. John Thanks for that feedback, John. I will be watching mine closely to see how they fare. Deirdre

  • By Diane 3788 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 19 January 2015

    I wondered where all my busy lizzies had gone and why newly planted ones disappeared, now I know, Thanks. Will try the New Guinea varieties. Hope you have success. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    I have never had much luck with the NNG Impatiens. do love the brilliant colours though. Might try again and also try your method of propagating them. I do think they seem to need regular water and fertiliser; not too much afternoon sun. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    Deirdre you could tell Rosibel to use the Google tanslator :usar traductor Google. Thanks, Anne. Have suggested that to her now. Deirdre

  • By Patricia 2100 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    It is comforting to read for the first time an obituary, brief though it is, for busy lizzies. Nice to know that others have grieved at the loss of these beautiful and generous plants and that they are still sadly missed. Photos are a reminder of the beauty they once gave to the garden. From pastel seedlings bought a few years back, we potted a surviving soft pink one which so far seems to be made of sterner stuff having produced seedlings and not yet succumbed to the fungus. Patricia I hope that one does survive. I heard from a friend that she has seen a whole bed of them thriving in a garden on Sydney"s northern beaches this summer. Maybe there are some that are immune? Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 19 January 2015

    Ah ha ! Catharanthus rosea, thanks Densey, I will try that as I miss the wonderful weed smothering of my Busy Lizzies and the joy of the colour on ground level in my shady garden. Many thanks Deidre for the useful article and other readers for their respective comments. I must tell that I am enjoying a first season of regular visits to grevillea longistyla by Eastern spinebills, never had them before this summer. Thanks, Carole. How wonderful to have those gorgeous birds in your garden! Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 20 January 2015

    I have a beautiful pale pink New Guinea variety growing in a pot at the back door, I have had it for years, it just keeps growing throughout summer and winter. I have propagated from it which has been a success. I must admit it does not like the really hot days but a good water at night and it bounces back the next day. A really versatile plant for me. Always in flower, tolerates a good prune. Thanks for your comment - it is good to know that the plants can last for a long time! Mine are only relatively new. Deirdre

  • By Jenny 2120 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 20 January 2015

    I"d forgotten Impatiens now that you mention it! Where did all that colour go? Pity. I tried the NG ones but couldn"t keep them growing. I remember how the huge green striped caterpillars loved the common busy Lizzies. At least they still have my Pandorea pandoranas to feed on! There is one there now dropping its big black blobs all over my side path. Interesting to hear of people"s varying success with the NG impatiens. I think they do need plenty of moisture. In cold areas, I guess they don"t get through winter very well, so need to be kept going with cuttings. I remember those big caterpillars! Not seen much here any more. Deirdre

  • By Beth 2257 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 22 January 2015

    I was thrilled to receive a pink NG impatiens for Christmas on Norfolk Island (for my little holiday house garden). Thanks for all your hints. I have been trying to decide where would be the best spot. At least now I have more information. BTW, the woody and the fleshy wild impatiens are alive and well here and yes, they are regularly stripped by the caterpillars. Great to hear from you, Beth! It is interesting to know that you still have the old wild impatiens there. I believe it is a wonderful place for gardening where you are! Good luck with your new plant. Deirdre

  • By Beth 2257 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 22 January 2015

    Yes, plants just pop out of the soil! Vegies are a little more problematic with lots of bugs to compete with but the fresh food tastes amazing. Sounds wonderful! Deirdre

  • By Carol 5068 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Saturday, 24 January 2015

    Still growing them in South Australia, perhaps the harsh climate kills the fungus? I have to grow them in pots and water a lot, but some have been growing over 2 years.

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