The gorgeous flower pictured here belongs to the Impatiens tinctoria. It’s not often seen, which is odd, because it’s one of the best plants around. I planted mine 6 years ago, since when it has needed no attention at all. It’s a perennial which dies back completely in winter and then grows into a large bush, about 6 ft across and 5 ft tall, and will flower continuously from July to September. It has proved to be completely hardy, surviving the harsh winters of 2008-10. In other words, an excellent doer.
The same can’t be said for it’s rascally cousins, the Busy Lizzie, otherwise known as Impatiens walleriana, and Himalayan Balsam, whose Latin name is Impatiens glandulifera. The Busy Lizzie is the cheap and nasty scrawny thing, which is used to fill hanging baskets. It’s shipped over by the millions from Holland to be sold in supermarkets and garden centres. It is to horticulture what pot noodles are to food – an adequate filler, but with no intrinsic merit. It’s having a year off this summer because a type of mildew has infected it, so the nurseries are holding back until it recovers. More’s the pity – I’d let it die out. The Himalayan Balsam on the other hand is an attractive plant in its own right, but has been condemned as a pest by the Environment Agency because it has no natural predators in this country and tends to take over at the expense of native plants, very much like the Japanese knotweed. It’s very common in the ditches and hedgerows around these parts. I’ve no real objection to it, but it’s not a patch on the magnificent Impatiens tinctoria.