The seeds self-sow and the garden balsam comes in various cheery shades. Stephanie Choo is captivated
IMPATIENS balsamina, or commonly called garden balsam, produces charming blooms that resemble small roses. This old garden favourite is grown in a pot or flower bed.
Some adore its flowers so much that they plant every new variety that they can get their hands on in their garden.
I love its self-seeding attribute. As the seeds self-sow easily, new plants crop up often.
A great candidate for cottage or informal-style gardens, Impatiens balsamina has a few common names, each referring to a particular part or trait of the plant. Depending on the variety, it can grow 15-75cm tall and 15-45cm wide and has upright branched stems with lance-shaped, serrated light green leaves.
The flowers are cup-shaped, about 2.5-5cm in diameter, and are either single, semi-double or double blooms. In clusters of one to three flowers, they bloom from the leaf axils, on short peduncles and close to the central succulent stems in radiant shades of pink, rose, red, purple and white. They can also be bi-coloured or spotted.
The single-layer blossom type has a distinct shape, resembling a slipper, and consists of five petals that form a small hood, a wide lower lip and a spur at the back. That’s why it’s sometimes called lady’s slippers.
The double blooms are more popular. They are sometimes called rose or camellia-flowered balsam as they resemble those blooms.
FASCINATING SEED PODS
Impatiens balsamina belongs to one of the two genera of the Balsaminaceae (Balsam family) and originates from the tropics of Asia.
Impatiens is Latin for “impatient”. The name is derived from its seed pods, which will burst at the slightest touch when they have ripened, spreading brown round seeds. This peculiar attribute allows the seeds to self-sow and grow freely once they hit the ground. It’s no wonder then that the plant is also known as snap weeds or touch-me-not.
HOW TO GROW
Though you can find garden balsams at the nursery, I’d suggest growing them from seedlings. The plant is perhaps one of the easiest to cultivate.
• Seeds: It takes about a month for the seed to turn into a flowering plant. Sow seeds either directly into the garden or in tiny seed-starting pots or trays. The plant has a hardy root system, so it can be transplanted easily at any stage of its development.
• Media: Well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter or compost.
• Pot: Choose a medium to large-sized pot with drainage holes. If grown in the ground, ensure 30-45cm in between plants.
• Sunlight: Grow in full sun with afternoon shade.
• Watering: Daily and thoroughly.
• Feeding: Apply well-balanced slow-release granules or liquid fertiliser.
• Propagation: By seed.
• Maintenance: Deadheading is not necessary, but do so to prevent self-seeding and to promote blooming. Prune young plants for a denser bush. If grown in a pot, relocate it to a sheltered area during prolonged rain.
• For a better display, prune some of the leaves so the flowers stand out.
• Each seed pod may contain up to 12 seeds. If you intend to save the seeds, harvest them before the pod bursts. A mature seed pod is yellowish.
• The flowers attract beneficial pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
• To prevent it from spreading like weeds, grow in a confined area in the garden.
• Certain parts of the plant have medicinal properties. For example, the flowers are used to soothe burns and scalds and to treat snake bites while the juice of the leaves is used to treat warts. In Korea, girls use bruised red garden balsam petals as dye to colour their fingernails.