Pity the impatiens, which used to radiate everywhere this time of year in hanging baskets, window boxes and otherwise scruffy garden patches. Not only is it under attack by a lethal blight called downy mildew, it is in the midst of a public relations crisis. Impatiens are, as I just learned, as déclassé as kale, pesto, pomegranate seeds and sundried tomatoes seem to be.
The Wall Street Journal is the latest publication to damn the colorful petals with feigned praise. Bart Ziegler points out that “impatiens are the go-to plant for nearly foolproof flowers that thrive even in shade” but then whacks them close to the roots. “Many gardeners and landscape designers consider them the flower world’s equivalent of iceberg lettuce -- cheap, tasteless and way too common.”
Rochelle Greayer, a garden designer and blogger, is among the professionals who support the thesis in Ziegler’s piece. “Impatiens are ubiquitous, boring and not all that pretty,” she says, adding that even before the blight took hold they “seem to always look a little sick to me -- the leaves and flowers are just too withery and wimpy.”
Evanston, Ill., gardener Jason Kay thankfully represents the other side of the story: “They’re really easy, nice flowers,” he says.
Last month, Purdue Extension plant disease specialist Janna Beckerman was similarly equivocal in a piece run by Purdue Agricultural News.
“Few plants provide the flowering impact in the shade like impatiens, but gardeners with a history of problems with the disease should consider other plants,” Beckerman said. “And we need to recognize that this isn’t the end of gardening but a reminder to expand your gardening palette. Impatiens have become a default option for too many of us,” she concluded.
So where do the kale, pesto, pomegranate seeds and sundried tomatoes fit in? Well, in an entertaining lead-up to a delicious-sounding Kale, Beet and Walnut Salad recipe, Philipstown.info’s Celia Barbour tells the tale this week of a photo shoot she recently oversaw during which the food stylist proclaimed: “You know two words I’d be happy to never hear again? Kale. Salad.”
“‘Ri-ight?’ agreed the prop guy. ‘It’s like sundried tomatoes or something. Sooo tired.’
“‘And pomegranate seeds?’ the food stylist went on.
“‘Omigod, puh-lease,’ said prop guy, rolling his eyes. ‘And can you believe all the things people turn into pesto?’ They giggled madly.”
Barbour describes the “social hot flash” she felt whereby the “seventh-grade fight-or-flight mechanism starts pumping adrenaline into your system, having sensed that you are that close to being labeled a loser.”
Spoiler alert: In the end, if we are to draw a moral from the story, it would be that just because something is out of fashion doesn’t mean it’s not good.
As for that downy mildew, “Once plants are infected with this disease, there is no chance of saving them,” an article in the Home, Yard & Garden Pest newsletter published by the University of Illinois Extension states, according to Arlene Mannlein, ruefully reporting for the [Decatur, Ill. ] Herald-Review.com. “(There) might not be any impatiens,” Stephanie Porter, University of Illinois plant clinic diagnostician tells her. “It’s a serious disease.”
When all is pro and conned, that’s a bad thing, right?
Guys like me who planted impatiens with little aforethought will never will figure out these things out, even as we ardently do our best to keep up with the fashion arbiters. Take the conflicting advice given by Harper’s Bazaar staff in its “What’s In, What’s Out” feature.
First, we are told that tangerine is a hot color, working for both dresses and handbags. But don’t even think about “matching your orange bag with your orange dress. Who wants to look like a pumpkin?"
Then, a couple of slides later, they tell us that what’s “in” is “matching your bag to your outfit” with an accompanying picture of a fetching woman dressed in a shade of pumpkin bearing a matching handbag.
Praise the fashion gods for having sent the Kardashians to sort all this out for us.