by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, May/June 2003
Used with permission.
The “New” in the name refers to their place of origin and though they seem to have been around forever they really are relatively “new”. New Guineas arrived here from New Guinea recently in 1970, the result of a joint plant collecting expedition by the USDA and one of the world’s premier horticultural display gardens, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, begun in 1907 by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont. The plants brought back were originally believed to be several different species but modern science and genetics proved them to all belong to one extremely variable plant Impatiens hawkeri.
The first to hit the public in 1972 were the result of crosses made with these plants. Since then, other species from the Celebes Islands and Java have been added to the genetic mix and we have the newest New Guineas! The first ones available were a riot of foliage colors near rivaling Coleus. Stripes of yellow, red, cream, dark green and white in various combinations painted the leaves while some were solid burgundy red or shiny, almost black, dark forest green. The plants were a bit leggy, and the flowers were reminiscent of regular Impatiens walleriana with the colors being a bit more intense rather than pastel, and were the same size – about the size of a quarter. They also had the ability to withstand more sun than the shade type. This plus the Mardis Gras foliage and enhanced color made them an instant success.
Have you seen them lately? The foliage is still a great source of alternate color, the plants themselves are more compact and self-branching, but the flowers have gone ballistic! The colors are intense and electric including salmon, tangerine and coral not to mention others that may be white striped like a starburst. Above all is the size – the flowers are now as large as a silver dollar!
This is a great time to find them in the garden centers in 4″, quarts, gallons or hanging baskets. Though somewhat sun tolerant, they do best with morning sun and afternoon shade; an eastern exposure is perfect. If you are an “everyday waterer” full sun might be o.k. but filtered sun is best. They prefer a rich soil or potting mix and should be kept evenly moist. With their “new” compact and self-branching habit they are exquisite when used in containers on a deck or patio. Changing an old expression a bit: “Everything new is new again” so check out the “new” New Guinea Impatiens and add them to your plant world!