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An unexpected jewel - Impatiens capensis

Impatiens-capensisTwoOne of the unexpected stars in the garden this summer was an American native weed – jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. I’d seen it growing by creeks in this area, of course, and I always thought it was an attractive plant with its sparkling, red-spotted, orange flowers (left, click to enlarge). But the nearest wild plants I’d seen were a mile or two away, so I suspect that the seeds that produced the plants in our garden came in on my boots.

So: “What was it doing growing in your garden?” I hear you cry. “It’s a weed!” Well, when I spotted a seedling, just a few inches high, I thought I’d not pull it out as a weed but just let it do its thing – the flowers being so pretty. That first year, we had just a seedling or two which, in a dark and dry part of the garden, produced just a couple of small spindly plants. But, every year, it seeded. We pulled out most of the seedlings - which is easy when they’re small - and left one or two to flower.

This year we never even spotted the seedling between shrubs outside the guest room window until it emerged alongside the indispensible Physocarpus Coppertina (‘Mindia’) and behind Weigela Wine and Roses (‘Alexandra’). It flowered for months, never dominating, but always there. Always sparkling.

Of course, now we’ve let that one plant grow to almost 6ft/1.8m high, it will have produced so much seed that next year there’ll probably be hundreds of seedlings. And, again, we’ll pull most of them out and leave just one or two.

But it just shows how an ignored and unadmired native weed can add colour and character to the garden tapestry – if we just open our eyes to its beauty.

You can buy seed of Impatiens capensis from Horizon Herbs in North America, and from Plant World Seeds in Britain.