New Plants On The Block: Impatiens balansae and Entelea arborescens

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Followers of The Frustrated Gardener will already know that I am an inveterate plant collector. If I’ve not seen or heard of a plant and it looks vaguely attractive I’ll want to try growing it. Once I’ve established that I am capable of doing so (normally a quick Internet search will suffice) and I have my hands on it, there is no going back.

The winter provides some relief from this expensive and space-hungry addiction, although of late I have turned my attention to houseplants and am quickly running out of room for those too. But a trip to Cornwall is not complete without a visit to at least one nursery, and since it was also my birthday nothing was going to prevent me dropping into Hardy Exotics en route from Penzance to St Ives. Hardy Exotics is a small nursery brimming with unusual and unexpected plants. It has a special place in my affections since it’s where I began buying tender and subtropical plants some ten or twelve years ago.

Having admitted that I tend to buy now and research later, I am hereby committing to describing this year’s purchases on my blog, both as an aide memoire and a confessional. I might think twice about buying so many plants if I know I then have to write about them … although I feel this is unlikely!

On entering one of Hardy Exotics’ slightly dishevelled and algaefied polytunnels, the first plant that caught my eye bore a handsome rosette of elongate green leaves atop a fleshy stem. Each leaf had a burgundy-red reverse with raised veins. I instantly recognised this as an impatiens, but was not sure which. The label read ‘Impatiens balansae‘. I have found almost nothing written about this species, apart from that it hails from China and Vietnam. Pictures online show shoals of jazzy little flowers resembling goldfish with big red lips. They swim elegantly over and between the foliage, poised on wiry stems. Lack of information generally serves only to pique my interest further. I shall let you know how I get on with the mysterious Impatiens balansae in due course. My first challenge is to get the plant through the remainder of the winter without an attack of red spider-mite, which so often cripples my impatiens when they come indoors.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Kenraiz

Mindful that The Beau might not appreciate me filling his car with plants (I’m still sussing him out in that respect) I decided that I should only purchase one more on this particular excursion. Hopefully it won’t be long until we’ve graduated to full-boot, roof-down, plants-wedged-between-the-legs adventures. Finding it difficult to choose, I plumped for another unknown, based purely on its resemblance to Sparmannia africana, a large, felty-leaved shrub that I find indispensable inside and out. It turns out that Entelea arborescens is quite closely related to sparmannia, as well as being an only child – it’s the sole species within the genus. The leaves resemble a lime or a mulberry, with their large size and silky lustre suggesting ‘tropical’ and ‘vigorous’. In its native New Zealand, Entelea arborescens is called whau and is prized for its very light wood, rivalling balsa (Ochroma pyramidale). The wood is pithy and unlignified, which means it has very little weight and no distinct growth rings within it. The Maori used whau to make rafts, floats and marker buoys, naming Auckland’s Mount Eden ‘Maungawhau’ meaning ‘Mountain of the whau tree’.

As you will see from the lead image, the flowers bear a close resemblance to those of rubus, superficially at least, and are borne in large clusters during spring and summer. They are, apparently, scented too. After flowering, spiky green fruit capsules appear, eventually turning blackish brown to resemble Mediaeval instruments of torture. Entelea arborescens is not considered hardy in the UK and does not appreciate cold or drought. However it does root very easily from cuttings, so I shall be taking several this summer as an insurance policy. In its natural habitat whau is a pioneer species living around ten years, so it benefits from constant rejuvenation and replacement. Whau might also make a handsome houseplant for a bright room, provided one has the space to let it grow and flower.

No doubt these intriguing plants are the first of many additions to the garden at The Watch House this year. How I will fit them all in I don’t know. Stay tuned to find out! TFG.

Lead image: Whau Flower (Entelea arborescens) – Wikimedia Commons / Avenue

Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Cornwall, Flowers, Foliage, Musings, Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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17 comments On "New Plants On The Block: Impatiens balansae and Entelea arborescens"

  1. Let the plant purchasing begin! No doubt a bad case of plant lust will be triggered by these posts. I can’t get too excited yet since the snow isn’t going to melt anytime soon. This is a good time to get The Beau indoctrinated slowly but surely.

  2. You couldn’t really have found a partner further away from your east coast location could you! Other than the very north of Scotland. Let’s hope he gets used to your obsession 🙂
    The Hardy Exotics is a very interesting nursery, like wandering through an semi-tamed jungle. I managed to escape with four plants last year, also birthday presents, though I was very tempted by a lot more!!

    1. I really don’t mind having an excuse to come to Cornwall more often. It’s like going home.

      The Beau swears by Lower Kennegy Nurseries and Cross Common Nursery, both of which I look forward to visiting in spring. I’ve already spotted a couple of plants I fancy on their websites! Oh dear. Here we go again!

  3. That made me smile regarding packing your car with plants. Each year when my daughter and I visit the RHS Tatton show we say we are not going to buy a lot of plants. We do – and have to make several visits back to the car with carrier bags loaded with them. She has a mini but we still manage to cram loads of plants in.

  4. No pictures of the Impatiens balansae? We have been without the common busy Lizzie because of disease. Other specie of impatiens are available, but they are no substitute. I suppose that someone will breed a substitute eventually.

    1. No pictures at the moment Tony but I will take some and update the post in due course. I don’t like to use images from the Internet unless I’ve sought permission, and there are very few to be found. I’ll have to keep you in suspense for a little longer!

      1. Oh, it is no problem. I am none too keen on these new introductions anyway. I would prefer to grow the common impatiens that are so difficult to grow now.

  5. Wow and wow! We were on our way to the nursery in September (stopped off at the Mexico Inn for lunch) when we discovered that my friend had put petrol in her diesel car. That was the end of that. We had to spend the rest of the day drinking wine and watching the bathers at Jubilee Pool basking in the sunshine. 🙂 Next time …… and these are certainly two I will be looking for x

    1. Oh Gill! What a disappointment (sort of ;-)) The Mexico Inn is very close to The Beau’s place of work. He tells me the food is good. Do you agree? Might try it out another time.

      Meanwhile I have made the same mistake with a car and one’s heart just sinks. I hope you got it sorted out pronto, and before starting the engine?

      1. The Mexico is brilliant, you should definitely give it a go. Unfortunately we had driven the car, poor Div had to get it towed and sorted out. Luckily her garage is just down the road. Where does The Beau work? x

  6. The Beau has good taste in local plant provision.

    Has he told you about the Tregrehan Plant Fair [June 2nd this year]?

    Or its slightly smaller brother at Tremenheere [date not yet confirmed but probably a Sunday near Sept 8th]?


  7. The Beau’s is most definitely a keeper Dan! Wishing you lots and lots of happiness. It’s taken me nearly 20 years to 🌱 train my hubby ..rules include…ask no questions , no sighing/rolling eyes in public , allowing me one child free trip to nursery/garden irrespective of where we are on holiday, meeting me by the cake shop in lieu of the task of fitting my meagre purchases in an already packed car. He enjoys the end result..just not the journey it takes to get the garden looking lovely.

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