Impatiens balsamina

A packet of free seed became a row of free-flowering annuals.

Here at Gardener’s Supply we have something called “the free table.” It’s where employees put things they want to give away, so it’s always interesting to see what shows up. The free table is a great place to recycle. You’ll find everything from last year’s bestseller to a sparkly cat figurine. Last spring, I grabbed a packet of seeds. I was unfamiliar with the variety, but it was described as a “Victorian favorite” heirloom flower, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I planted the seeds indoors and grew them under lights for eight weeks. Then, I transplanted them into our test gardens, in a row along the back of two side-by-side raised beds. After a couple of weeks in the ground, the seedlings really took off. The row matured into a 2-foot tropical hedge covered in light pink, coral and magenta blooms, which continued until frost. The bees and butterflies loved me for planting these seeds.

After the flowers faded, an unusual seed capsule formed. When squeezed, the capsule would explode and fling seeds in every direction. My six-year-old son loved that part.

The mystery flowers were Impatiens balsamina, also known as jumping Betty. This year, I plan to try more unusual heirlooms; I can’t wait to see what sweet surprises await me.