A small triumph: Impatiens flanaganae

As it turns out, this was not the best year to dip my toes into the world of ‘hardy’ impatiens. April was frosty almost every day and we have had extended dry periods all summer, the latest of which finally ended on Wednesday. This is not ideal for impatiens. The young plant that I wanted to grow more than any was Impatiens tinctoria, an African species that is big and scented. I have had success with it in the past but my little plant did not come into growth this spring. Most of the rest did sprout and have struggled to grow. Of all these, the one I wanted to bloom so desperately was I. flanaganae. This is another large species, and also African, but from a small area in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is rare in the wild but is making inroads in cultivation. It should reach 1.2m high but mine is yet just 30cm. In areas with warm summers it aborts the flower buds but mine has not had this issue in Ireland. The flowers are said to be fragrant but I have not sniffed it yet.

It needs a well-drained but moist soil and dappled shade. Unfortunately, when I went to take a photo, the sun was behind it and lighting the leaves but not the flowers. The blooms are quite large and a bright pink with red spur. The stems are red and a notable feature is that the tubers are red too.

When the frosts start I will have a dilemma because this is supposed to be ‘just’ hardy as long as the soil is not wet. But where I have it the soil can be wet in winter. I could mulch. Or I could lift it and keep it under cover. The tubers must be kept moist and apparently they die if dried out. I will have to decide soon because I really don’t want to lose this now I know it can perform.

This one is rather special but I have almost as much affection for the I. glandulifera that have appeared in the garden. I had no idea where the plant came from when it appeared last year. There are some down the road but at least a mile away. Where it grew the soil is wet in winter. I know it is an alien but I like it and I didn’t think there was much risk of it spreading, seeing that the garden is surrounded by fields. This year lots of seedlings appeared by one way or another and lots were destroyed and only three remain. I will keep an eye on it – seedlings are distinctive and easy to remove – but it is a cheerful thing, fragrant and the bees like it.

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3 Comments on “A small triumph: Impatiens flanaganae”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    September 10, 2021 at 11:32 am #

    We were in some garden many years ago when one of our sons became completely enchanted by the manner in which Impatiens glandulifera shoots its seeds from the ripe seedpod so we simply had to have it in the garden for his… and it seeded all around the garden, even into the lawns, before we decided that we might be better without it – and the novelty had worn off at that stage for our son!

    On the other hand, I. flanaganae is a very attractive colour and would certainly tempt one to try the genus again!

    There is a very desirable gladiolus named for this Flanagan. I wonder who s/he was?

    • thebikinggardener
      September 10, 2021 at 12:37 pm #

      Ah yes, the suicide lily. I had a search and it was Henry George Flanagan and he had an Irish connection. He was the son of an Irish immigrant/emigrant – who moved to South Africa. Henry was born in 1861 and was a citrus farmer plant collector from 1889. He died in 1919, not, I assume, collecting the gladiolus!

      • Paddy Tobin
        September 10, 2021 at 12:51 pm #

        Who knows? It might have been the end for him!

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