Exploding seeds: Busy Lizzies, also known as impatiens or thian in Thai, can add quick color to the garden and are very unforgiving to forgetful gardeners.


The ever impatient Busy Lizzies

Mums – bless ’em. They’re hilarious. They have the un-canny knack of being able to say the daftest things and totally get away with it. They’ve even mastered the art of saying daft things in two completely different ways.

First there are the myths they put across as complete fact when we were young, presumably because we were too dippy to realize it. Quotes such as “If you pick your nose, you’ll grow pig’s trotters”, “If you keep picking your nose your brains will fall out” or “Stop picking your nose or your head will cave in” must surely sound familiar. Why can’t mums just say, “Don’t pick your nose it’s disgusting”?

My sister, now happily married with three ankle-biters of her own, always always swore blind she’d never say, “Because I said so” to her children. And yet there she said it, last time I was back in nearly-sunny Yorkshire. Totally lame, but she does it anyway, I think it’s part of the rite of passage in becoming a mum.

Another of my mum’s favorites was the classic, “Finish your meal; there are thousands of starving people in Africa”. Yet she never saw the humor or logic of the situation when I offered to put my leftovers in a box and post it to those poor people.

She also used to say, “Make sure you have clean underwear on in case you get run over by a bus.” I never had the heart to tell her that if I was indeed run over by a bus, the cleanliness of my Y-fronts would be the last thing on my mind.

My mate’s mum had a bit of an evil streak. She told him that if he swallowed an apple pip, an apple tree would grow inside him and the branches would poke out of his ears. And that if he drank his dandelion and burdock (can you still get that stuff, by the way?) any faster than in small, polite sips, that he would explode. He believed her.

The other side of a mum’s daftness comes when you’re older. I’m sure that every grown person’s mum is a bit doo-lally in some way. My own mum is famous for minor slips of the tongue surprisingly, I’m not going to list them here. She’d make my life a misery on her next visit to Phuket if she ever found out. Having said that… No, not a word.

My mate’s mum, now that’s a different story. Rumor has it that she once went to see him and said, “My knee is giving me terrible pain today.”

“Well don’t suffer then, mum,” he replied. “Take a couple of Paracetamols to ease it a bit.”

“You don’t take Paracetamols for knee pain. Everyone knows that. They’re only for headaches,” she explained.

Another gem from her was when she said, “It’s best to go for a walk before noon because there’s not much oxygen left later on.”

This is the same mum who talks about “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Ryvita”, claims to have “Curtains 95” on her computer, and asks for tins of “Durex paint” at the local equivalent of HomePro. Bless.

I really can’t give my mum too much grief she put up with me during the earlier years of my life, after all. One thing that I do remember from those years was her fondness for houseplants. They were everywhere and were her pride and joy. Especially her Busy Lizzies.

Being a typical youth, I wasn’t particularly appreciative of her plants, but ironically here I am, several decades down the road on the other side of the planet writing about the things.

Busy Lizzies are actually part of the much bigger impatiens family, but probably the best-known member and are often referred to by that name.

These attractive little annuals got their Latin name, Impatiens walleriana, from seed pods that explode when they ripen, apparently. They shoot their sticky seeds far and wide. They are certainly not alone in that regard. Impatient to reproduce, perhaps?

Impatiens are so popular possibly because they’re dead easy to grow and flower enthusiastically all year.

Today’s versions of the plant are more tolerant of sun than many older varieties, but too much sun will stunt their growth, resulting in shorter plants with small leaves and fewer flowers.

You will find impatiens (with the generic Thai name thian) at most garden centers in Phuket, probably in hanging baskets, but there are other ways of getting them, too. The one in the picture, in my front garden, was rescued from the street after it literally fell off the back of a lorry. You can even grow them from seed if you’re feeling adventurous, but if you can buy one for a few baht, why bother?

Impatiens are available in a number of different colors red, scarlet, pink, white, rose and mauve and in star patterns and bi-colors with light colors inside the flowers and darker colors at the margins of the petals. They come in single, semi-double or fully-double flower forms.

There are actually hundreds of varieties, and identifying exactly what each one is seems to be an art in itself. Even my mum couldn’t tell you what they all are. Ultimately, all that matters is that you’ve got something in your garden that fills the gap effectively.

When growing impatiens, you’ll probably want to give your plants the best start possible by mixing some of that coconut husk/compost stuff into the soil at planting time and finish off by watering thoroughly. To keep your plants looking their best, you’ll need to water them daily at this time of the year. Don’t get them waterlogged, though.

They’re forgiving, too. Miss a day or two and they’ll wilt like crazy and look as if they’ve given up completely, but throw some water at them and they’ll bounce back in a few hours. This strategy isn’t particularly suggested though.

Deadheading (removing flowers as they finish blooming) and pinching growing tips to encourage branching are two things you can do to increase the vigor of these plants and the number of flowers that they produce for you.

My mum would approve of this, me writing about Busy Lizzies. If I tell her though, she’ll probably get the wrong end of the stick, as ever. “Who’s this ‘Lizzy’ woman? What’s she busy doing?” and so on. In fact, I’ll probably make a start on that explanation now, on my Curtains 95 computer. Where would we be without our mums…



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