Where have all the Impatiens gone? If you’ve seen the news this spring, you know Impatiens walleriana (what we call impatiens) — as a “go to” shade garden flower — is dead.

In 2012, a fungal disease (a strain of Downy Mildew) went wild in the U.S., spreading to 33 states. It’s a parasite that murders Impatiens walleriana. It travels by water and air, kills the flowers, infects the soil, and moves on to new prey. Fungicides don’t work, and once your soil’s infected, even experts are unsure how many years it takes to recover.

Some stores still sell impatiens, ensuring the disease will keep spreading. A friend of mine just planted some, saying she’s never seen the disease. Well, I have. Last summer, in the industrial park where I type these words, giant beds of impatiens were all dead by July.

It’s sad, BUT there’s an upside! It’s a time to explore new plants. Check out The Complete Shade Gardener by George Schenk, a garden classic recommended to me by horticulturist Nancy Wallace. Nancy, by the way, was a leader in warning gardeners about Impatiens. She has great recommendations. (More on that later!)

Here are 5 shade-loving flowers Schenk suggests in The Complete Shade Gardener. They’re safe for your garden, porch, and patio.

1. New Guinea Impatiens

Impatiens Downy Mildew: 5 Alternative Flowers - New Guinea Impatiens

Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Aruna

Impatiens Walleriana is only one species of impatiens. Another species, somewhat larger, and equally beautiful, is New Guinea Impatiens. This flower doesn’t get “the disease”.

It’s a beautiful flower, somewhat larger than Impatiens walleriana, and makes a great shade flower.

“Like their more common cousins,” says the plant encyclopedia at BHG.com, “New Guinea impatiens provide hard-to-find brilliant color in shade. And it’s not just the flowers. The foliage is often brilliantly, exotically colorful as well.”

“These tropical plants really shine in containers, where they thrive in the perfect soil and drainage, but they also do well in the ground as long as you take the time to improve the soil and work in plenty of compost. Note that they’re a bit more sun-tolerant than common impatiens.”

2. Browallia

In The Complete Shade Gardener, George Schenk says only 3 other annuals can compare with Impatiens in shade-tolerance. One of these is Browallia.

“All browallias,” Schenk writes, “are shade plants of first value and will follow nearly as far as Impatiens into the deeps of shade.”

“Browallia earns its nicknames of amethyst flower and sapphire flower for the richness of its small blue flowers,” says BHG.com, “which pop out like jewels against the bright green of its foliage.”

“A tidy mounding plant, it’s great in containers or planted as edging in a neat row at the front of the border.”

3. Wax Begonia

The 2nd annual that Schenk says can compete with Impatiens in shade tolerance is the Wax Begonia (also called Fibrous Begonia or Begonia semperflorens). The “wax” name comes from the glossy leaves and flowers.

“Beloved around the world as the stuff of floral clocks,” says Schenk, “the soldiers of flower battalions ordered to spell out city mottoes on civic lawns, or to stand in curlicues in front of clubhouses.”

“Talk about foolproof,” says BHG. “Annual begonia is about as easy as it gets. It does well in a variety of conditions, but to keep it its most luxuriant best, give it light shade; rich, well-drained soil; and ample water. It also loves plenty of fertilizer, so be generous.”

4. Coleus

Impatiens Downy Mildew: 5 Alternative Flowers - Coleus

Shade-Loving Coleus

Finally, the last annual that Schenk says campares with Impatiens in shade tolerance is Coleus — basically a tropical plant that becomes an annual (or an indoor plant) in cooler climates.

“The leaves are the main attraction,” says Schenk. “Nettle-like in size and shape, the foliage of Coleus is fantastically maculated. Seedling plants come up in endless varieties.”

“An amazing array of color combinations are available as well as leaf textures,” says BHG.com. “Choose from plants with scalloped, toothed, or fringed leaf edges.”

“Coleus is exceptionally easy to grow: Plant it in a shaded spot, keep the soil moist, feed it regularly, and be sure it has warm temperatures.”

5. Heliotrope

Impatiens Downy Mildew: 5 Alternative Flowers - Heliotrope - Heliotropium arborescens

Half-Shade Heliotrope

While BHG.com says Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) thrives in full sun, Schenk lists it as shade annual on page 253 of his book. “The plant flowers well in half shade,” Schenk says, “poorly in dappled shade.”

“Heliotrope is famous for its fragrance,” he adds, “which is most intense in the forms that have dark violet flowers. Pale violet and cloudy-sky-colored Heliotropes are often disappointingly weak in scent and barely worth planting.”

“An amazing array of color combinations are available as well as leaf textures,” says BHG.com. “Choose from plants with scalloped, toothed, or fringed leaf edges. Coleus is exceptionally easy to grow: Plant it in a shaded spot, keep the soil moist, feed it regularly, and be sure it has warm temperatures.”

“It’s a great container plant,” says BHG.com. “Try it in a window box or next to a doorway where you can enjoy it frequently.”

More Impatiens Alternatives

Luckily, there are many more excellent alternatives.

Our friend, Nancy Wallace of Wallace Gardens in Atlanta has many ideas for plants you can use instead of impatiens on her Substitutions for the Shade Garden page as well as an update on where the disease has spread.

Of course, much depends on the area you live in, so we’d love to hear some of your suggestions for shade gardens. What shade-loving plant do yout think deserves a chance to shine?