It's the Plants, Darling

Announcing the Anti-Impatiens League

Impatiens2FlickrThe Brit 2

Guest Rant by Jim Freeman of Dean Street Orchids

From tree pits, window boxes, front yards, back yards, pots on stoops;
little eyes of pink and white stare at me as I pass, like mini floral video
cameras recording my every move.  I feel
hemmed in, oppressed by their sheer number and uniformity, their horrible
perkiness.

I used to think it was
just garden variety paranoia.  Then,
suddenly,  it hit me like a truckload of
uncomposted manure:  there are impatiens
everywhere!  It's a full-on epidemic —
nobody wants to talk about it, but it's true!

Now, I really have no
essential prejudice against the genus impatiens itself, or even individual
plants, which I've heard can be quite nice. 
Imp. niamiamiensis is an excellent plant, except for the fact that you
almost never, ever see it, or most of the other unusual African species
either.  What you see is plant, after
plant, after identical plant, stuck in the ground like cheap hair plugs, always
in flower, never changing, and you begin to wonder what went so wrong.

I have come to believe
that the rise of the impatiens — temporary, I hope! — is the garden
equivalent of the supermarket beefsteak tomato, of iceberg lettuce, of the
almighty 99cent hamburger.  Somebody took
a perfectly good plant, one that was pretty, everblooming, and easy to grow,
and said to themselves, "I will make so many of these, and sell them so
cheaply, that soon every house in every town across the land will have to have
them."  And so it came to pass.  Now anyone can plunk a flat down on a patch
of bare earth and have instant color, without having to think about it at
all.  It's one of the many instances of
the modern triumph of convenience and conformity over  imagination and commitment.

Must we settle for
this?  Does anyone other than the
decorators of bank lobbies and corporate atriums put rows and rows of
pointsettias in all their windows? 
What's wrong with a little variety, people — not just in flower color,
lord knows that's easy enough — but of leaf texture and shape, of growth
habit, instead of a salad bar of the same little green things?  Better yet, how about planting perennials;
you know, the kind of plants that come back year after year, that grow and
change with the seasons, instead of handing your cash to the Man at the big box
store for a fast, one-summer hit of plastic-looking, water-sucking
Wonderplants?  Can I get a native species
or two here?  Somebody hit me with a
little xeriscaping, a little tenderness for the local watershed!

We can fight back.  We can stomp out mass plantings in our
neighborhoods.  But only if we act
together.  Join now.  And next time you see your neighbors with
trays of impatiens in their hands, please, please,
tell them, before it's too late:  put
them down now, while you still can!

Jim gardens in Brooklyn, NY.  Photo by The Brit 2.

Posted by on October 22, 2009 at 5:28 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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39 responses to “Announcing the Anti-Impatiens League”

  1. Roby says:

    I used to have to sell impatiens as a fundraising activity for a children’s choir and ever since then I’ve hated them with all my heart. Their proliferation has therefore been quite distressing for me, too.

    For the same choir, we had to sell geraniums. That was absolute cruelty because those things have a strong scent! Imagine having to ship hundreds of them from your own living room and then imagine the emotional scarring.

  2. Too many deer pretty much save me from this yearly. Feel this way about many common annual color bedding plants. Don’t get me started on those annual red and other color salvias. Have lots of salvia in my yard, all perennial and all lots nicer than those annual monstrosities.

  3. Katie says:

    I like impatiens. Sue me.

  4. I think I’m with Katie — much as I like complaining about over planted varieties (Stella D’Oro anyone?) and much as I dislike huge masses of mixed (read: clashing) impatiens, they can also be very nice in a single color setting off a clump of ferns.

  5. Count me in the pro-impatiens group — easy, wide range of colors, and looks great en masse. Those of us with deep, dry shade under tall trees are thankful for any color we can add there in the oppressive summer heat.

  6. susan harris says:

    JOseph, that’s so true. IT isn’t the plants themselves but how we use/misuse them.

  7. KSB says:

    “garden variety paranoia” — funny. :-)

    Nice rant! I appreciate that you took the time to establish that these were once perfectly good plants, without letting that get in the way of your feelings about them now. Amusing stuff, and I quite agree.

    “Now anyone can plunk a flat down on a patch of bare earth and have instant color, without having to think about it at all.”

    Confession time. I’m switching my front yard from lawn to garden. But I haven’t the time or money to do it right, so it has been a slow, agonizing and often ugly process. But as long as I carve out a couple little beds up front and stuff them with impatiens, or wave petunias, or whatever other ubiquitous annual I can pick up for half-off at the garden center that will give me summer-long color with no fuss, the nice older ladies across the street will wave to me and tell me how pretty my yard looks. The year I skipped that part, they were conspicuously silent.

    I do look forward, though, to when I’ve made enough progress that my yard will look good without them.

  8. Simon says:

    I think, given who (mostly) use them in such abundance, we should all be very, very grateful for impatiens. Not that I disagree with the general sentiment that it would be great if everyone was a gardener, but lots aren’t. Cheap, cheerful and easy, constant-blooming plants, are better (in my opinion) than red rock mulch, etc. etc.

    So thank goodness for impatiens. And they probably also serve as a bit of a “gateway drug”. Make it easy and maybe the impatiens planters will grow to become gardeners.

  9. Kate says:

    For the most part, I agree. Even still, next year, I’ll be planting them for the first time. I’ve only had a yard for two seasons and my focus has been the veggie garden. I’ve added flower beds with the slow composting methods. It will take me time to plan, find the plants I want, and nurture them until them mature and fill out the garden. To keep the garden from looking empty and sad, I’ll be filling in with impatiens, probably lots of impatiens, because they are cheap, easy, and will grow in the shade. I’ve tried more interesting plants from seeds, but I have a serious lack of sun. I want some easy success while I wait for my garden to mature.

  10. vicki says:

    I’d rather see a swath of impatiens in someone’s front yard than no plants at all.

    And, I also like them.

  11. SteveP says:

    It seems to me to be a matter of taste. Why scold someone when, from my point of view, at least, we want to encourage gardeners to do more gardening? Show them something better instead.

  12. donna says:

    I hate them too…

  13. donna says:

    But I hate them mostly because they’ll look good for a while, then get all gangly and icky looking, and nothing sabes them, and you have to re-plant them or plant something else. Which is the point, if you sell them or are a commercial landscaper, I suppose. I’m too lazy and just want the damn plants to grow and look nice without me fussing with them.

  14. gardenmentor says:

    After a morning of unwelcome news, gray skies, and other things that bring along the “ickies”, your post was the one thing that gave me a snickering smile. Thank you.

    I like impatiens and actually grew a few in pots this year, but truly they’re not my favorite, especially when used as pink and white crazy quilt over a random garden bed island — something I see far too often. And, usually, it’s accompanied by a giant sign announcing cookie-cutter houses ahead saying something akin to: “FakeWoodland Development Clearcut Village”

    Thanks for letting me get my ickies out with that snarky comment 😉

  15. greg draiss says:

    Plant Nazis attack again. First lawns then Stella Doros now Impatiens. Might I suggest letting loose herds of deer into them or innoculating them with slugs and a leaky hose.

    The TROLL

  16. liz says:

    I’d love to join your club too… I hate them with a passion, they’re not only vile to look at but their colours are truly horrific, so garish and completely uninspired.

    I’ve always noticed the age of the people who have them… They seem to be of a certain age, shall we say? 😀

    Impatiens and garish, stinky flouncy pelargoniums *shudder*

  17. I see no need to discriminate against a common plant if you use it in an uncommon and refreshing way.
    That’s what having an imagination is all about.

    If you area a nursery person, a designer, or a gardener all you have to do is create a stunning out of the box design with a so called common plant and suddenly you are in great demand by those who are will to pay for plant design and layout services.

    I really don’t see that this is something to whine about, instead make all this boringness work to your advantage.

    Now if you live in an area where people do not put a premium aesthetics, then I would say that it might be time to find a new place to live.

  18. how it grows says:

    I’ve never noticed them as particularly annoying. It’s crapemyrtles that I’m tired of.

  19. Peter Hoh says:

    I’d like to put in a plug for impatiens balfourii. It’s a self-seeding annual that provides late season color in my shady boulevard. It keeps the bees busy, too.

    I don’t have seedling photos up yet, but you can see flower shots here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterhoh/3774389426/in/set-72157622515843227/

  20. jen says:

    I did impatiens this year for the first time. I started them from seed and planted them in my window boxes. They were a mix of orange, white and burgundy. They were lovely.

  21. Lisa, Ontario says:

    You can put me in the “hate them” group. I have a particularly irksome memory of a lovely older home, in a great section of town that won a “Trillium Award” (which is a garden award up here) and their entire front garden was white impatiens. It was pretty to look at, okay I’ll give you that, for about 10 seconds, and then you wonder where any originality or effort came into it. The beds were edged well, is that why they won?

  22. Kerry says:

    I don’t hate impatiens per se, it’s more the lack of imagination that they seem to extrude (or fail to extrude) from people. It’s not so much the plants themselves but the way in which they are used, which could be said for so many plants. However, I’m not big on annuals myself and I’ll always stick to the Plant Delights mantra ‘friends don’t let friends buy annuals’!

    However, I’ve never lived in a truly harsh climate so I could see how the perspective could be quite different if I had to deal with snowy, icy winters and the allure of those colorful, homogeneous little six-packs of wonder in the early spring. I could see my inner magpie kicking in and saying ‘color’, ‘preeetttty’ after a long dreary winter. Oh the conundrum. 😉

  23. Claire Splan says:

    I’d be happy to grow them but it seems that no matter where I put them, I kill them. And I second Peter Hoh’s vote for Impatiens balfouri (Poor Man’s Orchid). I wish it were as commonly planted as the other impatiens.

  24. Deirdre says:

    Annuals have their uses. They’re great for filling in around baby shrubs. I also grow annuals in pots. I like to have pots on my front porch stairs. It’s welcoming. Since the stairs are in the shade, I use pansies or impatiens. Can anyone think of something else that will give me color all summer long that won’t get too big and take over the stairs?

  25. Pam J. says:

    “I’ve always noticed the age of the people who have them… They seem to be of a certain age, shall we say? :D”

    Meow, liz, meow.

    I wish you a nice long life so you, too, can become a woman of a certain age! Impatiens optional.

  26. I’ve been known to grow impatiens to add color to shady areas. But… with water shortages in so many areas, isn’t it time to think about planting something that doesn’t need so much irrigation?

    How about some natives that actually add some habitat value or maybe some sturdy perennials that come up year after year?

  27. how it grows says:

    Don’t be hatin’ – you’ll only stress yourself out!

  28. Tibs says:

    If Impatiens were not so common and only avialable at speciality plant shops some of you would think they were the greatest thing to come down the pike. I always end up buying a few 6 packs to plop down for a little spot of color in the shade garden, to cover up the dying bulb foliage (gone by May my butt, more like 4th of July). Garish colors? Only if you want, there are all kinds of pastels, and there are doubles.

  29. Rosella says:

    Yikes! At least two things to take offence at here! Ageism! Plant snobbery! Well, dammit, I AM a femme d’un certain age (and it’s not forty), but that isn’t why I put impatiens in my front porch pots every year. It’s because I have a whole lot of shade there and so far in my 35 years in this house I have been unable to find anything else that will (a) grow well there and (b) bloom its head off all summer. And furthermore, I mix impatiens in my other pots on the not-so-shady patio, because they are colourful and undemanding and make good fillers. I mix the impatiens in the front with ferns, maidenhair if I can find them, and lovely frosty-leaved pink begonias, and in my blue Vietnamese pots they are much admired by my old-lady-peers.

    Sometimes the elitism here is almost suffocating. I let the article about the White House’s new floral designer pass without comment because I was appalled by the let-them-eat-cake aspect of it and needed to digest it a little, but when you can’t find anything better to attack than a perfectly serviceable if pedestrian plant, I have to take issue. Gawd, ladies — you need to get out of the garden more.

  30. susan harris says:

    Rosella, this rant is by guest Jim Freeman, not any of us, and we don’t take votes on whether we agree with guests or not. Jim’s post made me smile and that’s enough for me.
    Now I’m confused about your saying the White House floral designer article has a “let-them-eat-cake aspect of it”. Not sure if you mean what I wrote or what the WaPo gossip columnists wrote.

  31. susan harris says:

    Rosella, on the ageism in an earlier comment, I’m totally with ya. And it was so out of left field!
    Now if someone wrote that people who buy these plants are, “shall we say, of a certain ethnic group,” with a little grinning emoticon, wouldn’t we all be shocked?
    Is ageism any more acceptable?

  32. kayellr says:

    I blame it on big box store culture. Everyone has impatiens, so all their neighbors see them, and know it must be time to plant impatiens. So they all go off to the big box store, where sure enough, there are racks and racks of impatiens, so they must indeed be the thing to plant. It’s the safe, suburban conforming choice that they don’t even need to choose.

  33. Katie says:

    I like impatiens because my mom plants a row of them in front of her house, no matter where that house is, every year.

    Impatiens in my yard give me a little glimpse of home.

  34. That was a very funny post. Thanks for the chuckles.

    However, I agree with other commenters that impatiens have their uses, and I’ve seen them used very effectively. (I could say the same for poor old Stella, too… and lawns, for that matter.)

    On the other hand, I’ve also seen native and perennial plantings totally botched, even by people (such as the managers of public gardens) who should know better.

    I suppose it’s the impatiens’ sheer ubiquity you object to. To that I say: just wait a bit for the next trend. All things will pass.

  35. Kaarina says:

    They remind me of my mean great aunt, who would never let me change the channel on her TV b/c I would leave fingerprints on the dial. I’m still upset by that.

  36. Thank you for speaking out against impatiens! Someone needed to do it!

  37. motherofsons says:

    Sheesh!! So many superior people here. Get over yourselves. Take some perennials from your gardens and offer them to your neighbor to plant along side the impatiens. They have their uses for some of us.

  38. I took a swipe at Impatiens in a recent blog I posted about plants I wouldn’t have in a garden even if you threatened to do terrible things to a cute little kitten…

    http://www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?id=2789

  39. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Here it’s not impatiens so much as it is begonias that are grievously overused. Having worked at a nursery where I had to unload flat after flat of red, pink or white begonias for the landscape division, I still can’t see them without shuddering.

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