Feeling ‘impatiens’ for summer color

Lovely double-impatiens.

Just as I was thinking it might be warm enough to plant my typical summer array of impatiens and coleus on my front porch, I discover the NY Times article discussing an outbreak of downy mildew infesting the U.S. crop of Impatiens walleriana. 

Major bummer. To me, this is a big problem. Why? Well, here’s my issue: I love flowers on my front porch. The perky color and long-lasting blooms of impatiens instantly cheer me up when I step onto my porch. As an added bonus, here in Georgia the plants last virtually forever; I think last summer’s plants finally died in November.

I realize that there are millions of other flower options in nature’s repertoire, but my housing situation is antagonistic to most of these alternatives. Residing as I do in the South, I’ve got the obligatory front porch; the blessed respite of shade in the sweltering summer heat. My house is surrounded by trees, making the yard shady as well. Finally, because I’m in an Arts & Crafts style bungalow, I’ve got deep, recessed eves around my roofline, making my porch even shadier. The bottom line is that I’ve tried a lot of plants on this porch and these are the two that flourished.

So what are my alternatives? I know that I’ll be fine with my usual coleus; its variegated foliage providing a delightful contrast to whichever blooms I select. New Guinea impatiens are being highly touted as a substitute, but I’ve tried and failed with those before. Fuschia is another suggestion, but it has failed too. (I got nothing but foliage all summer.) Hostas are lovely, but I think of them as bedding plants, not containers, and their flowers are a little dull.

Strobilanthes dyerianus, (aka “Persian Shield”)

After browsing around Pike Nursery for awhile, I’ve finally settled on Begonias mixed in with some coleus, a Persian shield (Strobilanthese dyerianus), and a few stand-alone pots of impatiens. I just couldn’t resist. I didn’t want to risk putting all of my money and time into them, but I decided that if I kept a few of them separate, I can easily replace them if they die. I’m also taking a little bit of a gamble. I know that my impatiens didn’t exhibit signs of the disease last year, so I am confident that my soil is uncontaminated with the fungus. Growers are expressing confidence that their stock is clean, but….

Tradescantia pallida (aka “Wandering Jew”)

Anyway, we’ll see how they all do! I still need to acquire hanging baskets of something and I’m stringently resisting the sterotypical southern porch accessory: the hanging basket of ferns.  Not only is it ubiquitous, it’s boring. Spider plants don’t do much for me either. Ivy is right out; my yard is a sea of it. I may settle on a “Wandering Jew” (Tradescantia pallida), but only if I can’t find something a little more exciting. I’m completely open to suggestions, so drop me a comment if you’ve got any ideas!

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