Just about everybody knows the familiar impatiens known as Busy Lizzie (Impatiens walleriana and its many selections). Every nursery carries it in a rainbow of colors from palest pink through fuchsia, fire engine red, and orange orange. It is a great addition to the shade garden where its eye-popping color really brightens up the darkness. But Busy Lizzie has some relatives that should be better known, as well.
The first of these is Impatiens auricoma. Most commonly sold under the name ‘Jungle Gold,’ it is a true perennial in the warmest zones, but must be grown as an annual where winters are cool. It forms a compact plant to one-and-a-half feet in diameter with glossy green leaves. It is the flowers, though, that catch your eye. They are an inch wide, golden yellow, and usually come in clusters. Busy Lizzie flowers are plain Janes compared to these. Their petals are twisted and contorted in ways reminiscent of orchids and usually have a red splash at the base. This species also grows in the shade and requires consistently moist soils. It can be grown easily from cuttings, so even in cold areas, once you have it, you should be able to keep propagating from year to year.
It might seem that plants native to the Himalayas would not find our mild climate to their taste. Impatiens balfourii, however, probably since it is an annual, is quite at home in Santa Barbara. In fact, some people have found it to be a bit weedy because it reseeds so freely. It grows to just less than two feet and is a waspish, but lovely plant topped with clusters of pink and white flowers. Some selections are deeper colored than others, so you might want to save seed of the best. Saving seeds of impatiens can be a little tricky; when their seeds are ripe, the pods pop open very explosively (fun for kids of all ages). Shade and moist conditions are required for this species, as well.