I haven’t planted balsam, the pretty Victorian-era annual, since 1970 or possibly 1971, but I can still visualize the tidy flowers shaped like little roses or camellias. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of balsam, botanically known as Impatiens balsamina, a relative of the more common impatiens. Thomas Jefferson was a huge fan, and planted balsam in 1767 at his home, and the gift shop at Monticello still sells seeds of what became a favorite annual at the historic home.
I decided 48 years has been too long without balsam, so I’m taking a trip down memory lane and planting balsam once again. I located seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and will soon start them indoors under fluorescent lights.
- Balsam is an annual bedding plant that prefers part sun, part shade. Morning sun and afternoon cool shade is ideal, or filtered sun under the loose shade of small-scale trees. Full sun is acceptable in cool microclimates.
- Although it’s related to impatiens, the growth habit is distinct, and you might not recognize the relationship.
- Balsam produces flowers that are rose-shaped, quarter-sized, and borne along the central stalk.
- Several varieties are available, commonly growing to 18-30 inches tall.
- Space plants about 18 inches apart.
- It was a favorite in Victorian times, and is often included in historically accurate flower plantings.
- It’s easily grown from seed started indoors between April 1-15 to produce transplants suitable for setting out between May 15-25.
- Amend soil with rich organic materials, peatmoss or compost.