Sunbathing Beauties

SunPatiens in Anne’s garden

No matter how many pets and people trample the fledgling flower bed in front of my house, I’m determined to keep planting until the blooms are lush and beautiful enough to command respect. This has meant multiple trips to the neighborhood flower shop, where I’ve bought more vincas (purple this time), a smattering of begonias, and, on the last trip, a marvelous plant called SunPatiens that can withstand full sun and high heat.

If I’d started my garden a dozen years ago, I wouldn’t have needed to seek out plants that can handle unrelenting sunshine. But 11 years ago, the maple tree in front of our townhouse was accidentally cut down—a sad tale that will follow in a later post. The point is that no other replacement tree has yet survived on that spot, so I can’t even dream of buying shade-loving plants like impatiens that require the protection of cool, moist shadows.

Congo cockatoo impatiens in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers.

That’s why the SunPatiens seizes my attention. According to the little plastic ID stuck in the pot, it’s “a completely new type of impatiens that thrives in hot, sunny conditions.” The key to its vigor apparently lies in a simple fact. It’s a cross between the somewhat sun-tolerant New Guinea impatiens and a hardy wild impatiens. (The Japanese company Sakata, which created the new hybrid, does not divulge which wild variety it used. But the choice is much more vast than I ever realized before. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I found this stunning Congo cockatoo impatiens in the Conservatory of Flowers.)

Whatever its lineage, I love the SunPatiens. The color is labelled as “deep rose,” but to me it’s an electric magenta. The five heart-shaped petals do not form a perfectly round flower. Instead, the blossom is elongated on the bottom, reminding me of a bulldog with sagging jowls. And because they’re taller and thicker than my little vincas and snap dragons, they fill the space between the border flowers and tree trunk nicely.

I add a small wire fence to reinforce the message that this is a tended flower bed, not a random collection of weeds. And gradually a small, barren plot starts to look like a real garden.

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