Why doesn’t anyone grow balsam?

by Patrick Muir on August 20, 2013

Why doesn’t anyone grow balsam? Yes they’e old fashioned Victorian heirlooms. And yes, they’ve been upstaged by hybrid impatiens when it comes to color impact but we don’t need color carpeting in all our shade garden applications. Do we?  They are classified as Impatiens balsamina but my experience has been they perform better in part sun areas than walleriana. While the old fashioned mixed color selections can look quite pedestrian, the same can’t be said for ‘Blackberry Trifle’ which I sourced from Baker’s Creek (rareseeds.com).

Yes  the flowers of balsam appear near on the stems of the plant, so they can be covered in foliage. But viewed from the side ‘Blackberry Trifle’ comes alive in purple and white swirls and blotches unlike any other show, hybrid or not. With a height of up to 2′, could make an interesting ribbon backdrop for some  10″ ‘White Accent’ impatiens? Or a unique thriller in a shade container? At only $2 for 15 seeds can have nearly 100% germinations, it’s a better value than a 4-pack of color carpeting.

Great plant. Great name. Great Price.

Do you grow balsam? Why or why not, my learned friends?

Patrick's Garden

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

KL August 21, 2013 at 7:48 am

I didn’t know about Balsam. I am learning it from your website only. But, then I also don’t grow impatiens :-). I am a cheap gardener — I go for the perennials instead of wasting money on annuals. Only annuals I grow from see are Marigold as even the seeds are cheap for these flowers :-).


Patrick August 21, 2013 at 9:10 am

Balsam seed are cheap direct sown annuals. Pick up a packet of the mixed camellia flowered type and you’ll be most pleased. Blackberry trifle costs $2 for 15 seeds with near 100% germination.


Minna October 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Mine made big seedpods and I was able to collect dozens of seeds for next year. We’ll see how they turn out! I love a cheap experiment.


Patrick October 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Should have no problem with the next generation and, in fact, you can expect volunteers after mild winters.


New Hampshire Gardener August 21, 2013 at 4:21 pm

I grow a lot of impatiens as bed edgers each year but I grow only “blue pearl” because I like their color and height. They look good from the road and neighbors have told me they enjoy seeing them on their way to work.
In all my years as a gardener I never had anyone ask for balsam,so that’s mainly why I’ve never grown it. Most of my gardening was done for others and my own yard was planted with plants that are very easy to maintain. The last thing i wanted to do as a professional gardener was come home and garden!


Patrick August 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Funny thing is I have my own history with ‘Blue Pearl’. I worked for ad agencies for 15 years before I was paralyzed and I guess it was fate but my first advertising client was Ball Seed. One of my first assignments was to rebrand the whole Super Elfin series while introducing ‘Pearl’ and ‘Blue Pearl’ to the greenhouse grower marketplace. Never had seen anything like it and I believe competitors still don’t have something similar. What a thrill for this garden junkie to see something before its introduction to the masses. I Had a ball on the account with highlights including visiting their impressive trial gardens in West Chicago.


New Hampshire Gardener August 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I’d love to see those trial gardens. You were lucky to get behind the scenes looks at those businesses. Super Elfins were a big hit.
The only trouble with Blue Pearl is its low rate of germination. Nurseries here that grow impatiens from seed won’t grow it because they have to spend too much time making full six packs out of all of the ones that have skips. Because of that, it’s hard to find.


Patrick August 22, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Check out trial gardens here:


No problems getting ‘Blue Pearl’ here.


Sally August 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Hi Patrick,
TY for visiting my blog (A New England Flowerbed) and leaving a comment. You mentioned how few butterflies there are……I think we’re poisoning them. I noticed a huge drop in Dragonflies since I was a kid……Yes! That was a long time ago but still……
You mentioned being paralyzed and I was wondering if you had some wisdom for the health proxy (me) of my brother who had a catastrophic stroke in July of 2011 (check it out in my blog) and is in a nursing home with no hope of recovery. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say or what to do for him…….
Thanks and God Bless, Sally


Patrick August 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm

The journey you and your brother are on is very similar to my own. Will contact you directly since its so personal.


snowbird August 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Balsam….I think I know what it is, but those pics make me think it’s something else…..but then I’m in England…xxxx


Patrick August 22, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Growing up in Australia, we had balsam so I’m sure you have it across the pond. You’d be familiar with the mixed camellia flowered variety.


Donna August 22, 2013 at 5:58 am

I too just learned it here. Thank you. It looks like it would make a nice ground cover. I would love if they withstood a little more shade, but may give them a try to see.


Patrick August 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

They are a classic shade annual but I think it can tolerate more sun than most options for shade. I think you should give it a goes we say in Australia.


Carolyn August 24, 2013 at 7:23 am

I understood that this plant was highly invasive. In fact on the island that I visit in Maine there is a big patch that we are worried about.


Patrick August 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

No, we’re talking about a different species, Carolyn. You’re referring to Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifara, whereas I’m talking about the half-hardy annual, Impatiens balsamina. They are as tender as garden impatiens. But it’s always good to have these types of discussions.


Patrick October 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm

No, that is a completely different plant. These are half-hardy annuals just like regular impatiens.


Shirley F. August 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm

A gardening friend in my area just posted about Balsam too.



Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome September 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

A friend of mine grows it, and says the deer don’t bother it. She also says she can’t get rid of it, which makes me hesitant to take her up on her offer to share some with me! Maybe it’s not the same stuff?


Patrick October 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

No, this is a different plant. See my comments to Carolyn.


Nadia@Loveliveandgarden September 17, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Good question! I was asking myself that as I read this post. I’ve never thought of growing it but since I LOVE growing healing plants (and I’m assuming ‘balsam’ lotion comes from the balsam plant.) I’m going to put it on my radar for the spring! Thanks!


Patrick October 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Sorry to be a buzz kill but The lotion comes from the Balsam Fir tree.


Steph@RamblingWren October 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Hi Patrick,
Thank you for the comment on my blog and for the link. I think gardening / plants have become so commercialized that we have forgotten about these wonderful heirloom varieties. I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for something different, some unique plant that stands out from the average, everyday plant. Balsam was one of those plants for me.

PS I’m going to have to try the Blackberry Trifle Balsam. They look beautiful!


Patrick October 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Am sure ‘Blackberry Trifle’ will be an heirloom in your garden, Steph.


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