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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Thursday
Apr072011

Platycodon or Balloon Flower: Bluest of Blue.

Platycodon or Balloon Flower, for those who still garden in the vernacular, was one of the first perennials that I planted in my garden over 17 years ago. It blossoms in an extremely satisfying shade of blue, it is of good height, and English - style gardens benefit greatly from its presence.

Before opening, flower buds resemble balloons http://www.seedman.com/pplatycodon.htm .This perennial is slow to establish. In the first year it looks scrawny, in the second it grows flimsily but by year three it is impressive. What I like most about it is the rich shade of blue and the velvety texture of its petals. Of course, there are white or pink varieties that are also available, but they cannot satisfy the gardener’s thirst for luscious perennials, as the blue varieties can. The white and pink don’t project and are not as stately looking. Frankly, if white or pink are desired colors for the flower bed, there are other plants that are more effective than these.

Platycodon grandiflorus "Mariesii" http://www.pezzalandscape.comHowever, just because it is stately does not mean that it is neat. It is uncompromisingly a sun worshipping plant. In my urban garden, each season, I find it necessary to gently stake it and gather together all of the stems into a very loose bouquet. Other more naturalistic gardeners allow the stalks to extend horizontally towards the sun and to kneel through the flower beds, to create swathes of blue punctuation wherever they fall.

Close up of grandiflorus www.gorgetopgardens.comWhenever I’ve used Platycodon in large garden composition, I found it more effective to plant it, unstaked, in drifts to create cloudlets of blue throughout the flower bed. The rhythm and repetition of both the flower and the color help to create drama and cohesiveness; the blue is enhanced by its own omnipresence. The composition is especially effective when Phlox paniculata is in bloom. Platycodon makes a perfect partner for this family of perennials because in height, volume and color intensity, it is its equal. Its very specific shade of blue makes the Phlox pop.

Nature rewards the Balloon Flower gardener with polite self seeding. Lift the seedlings as soon as they become apparent and plant them in plastic pots, to be interred in the ground until an appropriate home can be found. Or, transplant the seedlings to a spot in the garden where they can be useful in design or composition. However, mature Platycodon should not be transplanted so cavalierly. Here are two reasons why:-

Platycodon Hakone http://www.lejardindescuriosites.com

Firstly, it is often impossible to dig up this perennial with its deep tap root intact. Any pieces left behind, will re grow into a new flowering plant. Secondly, Platycodon goes into shock, the moment that it is lifted, and will not revive fully until the following year. Then, it will remain unimpressive for another season. Balloon Flower is one of the few plants that will be more successful when transplanted directly from a pot with the tap root safely encapsulated within a generous clump of potting soil. That is why I have recommended immediately planting new seedlings into pots until their final homes can be determined. Given the trouble that transplanting seedlings creates, most gardeners simply discard them and purchase nursery - potted plants as needed. Only the patient, fastidious gardener will reap the rewards of the seedlings.

Platycodon Sentimental Blue http://www.daytonnursery.com/encyclopedia/perennials/Platycodon.htm

Balloon Flower is camera shy. As the reader can observe from the images posted here, this plant photographs well only in extreme close up. In a long shot or from a distance, it is far more beautiful in the real world.

http://www.calendula-kraeutergarten.de/ballonblume_platycodon.htmlMy first blue Platycodon was the species grandiflorus “mariesii”. It has been replaced in most nurseries first with Fuji Blue and then with double-flowered Hakone. All three will grow 50 cm. tall or twenty inches. A shorter variety, Sentimental Blue, is 25 cm. or 10 inches in height. I grow all four varieties but prefer Fuji Blue for its color and petal texture and Hakone for its double flowers.

In spite of its beauty, there are some gardeners who do not appreciate this perennial because they find its straw-colored dead heads, distributed up and down the stalks of the plant, to be unattractive. I solved that problem by gently removing the dead heads, so as not to disturb the newer buds waiting to open. This can be achieved  by snapping off the dead heads with two fingers or, by carefully snipping them with a hand pruner. Done on a regular basis, this manicuring encourages the plant to rebloom. As long as autumn weather remains warm, it is possible to extend the flowering of this plant far beyond its official expiry date.

Platycodon is one perennial whose maturation cannot be accelerated and buying it in a large pot is no guarantee that it will look substantial in the garden in the first season. Sometimes large size plants are force - grown to impress the buyer at point of sale. Then, they often deliver lackluster performances until year two or three. However, it is worth the wait. Repeat; it is worth the wait! Platycodon is in its best form, in year three, when it has created a cloud of blue that makes the pinks and yellows in the garden shimmer. That is when it is truly appreciated.

Update: Several readers have enriched this post with their own Platycodon experiences. Please click on the comment option below to read more.

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Reader Comments (36)

Allan, Platycodon is a favorite of mine, and I have them growing in many parts of the garden. The blue P. mariesii self-sow in my garden; I sometimes just let them grow where the pop up, but I have successfully transplanted some of them. I have also have white and pink varieties growing. The white ones have been unimpressive, but I find the barely pink one called "Shell Pink" breathtakingly beautiful. BTW, balloon flowers make great cut flowers -- but you have to sear the bottom of the stem with flame as soon as you cut them.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Balloon Flower was given to me by my mother-in-law many years ago. It seeds itself readily, but I enjoy it in the garden very much. I am not sure what variety other than it is a grandiflorus. I was glad to read so much about it here.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Allan, this is one of my favorites especially the blue. I also have the white with a slight pinkish tinge. They are refreshing looking but you are right they don't really project in the garden.

Eileen

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

I've only experienced these the first year after transplanting--and didn't like them. Now I think I will try again. Thanks for re-forming my idea of them.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Hi Allan,
Great plant profile.
I second all your good opinions of Balloon flower. I would also add to the list of its positive attributes, its late summer bloom time. Sometime after most other blue flowers have enjoyed their moment in the sun, Balloon Flower steps onto the stage and puts on an excellent show.
One minor detraction for me is the fact that the flower petals do not fall from the flower as it fades, but rather wither and turn brown. I dislike the mix of these faded brown flowers in with the newly opened ones.
I have never tried to move my Balloon Flower, which is a lucky thing, because I did not know about the tap root.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I love balloon flower, a well-deserved name, as the balloon buds are part of the fun of these flowers. The "uncompromisingly sun-worshipping" bit may have been one of my stumbling blocks, as I've tried these unsuccessfully in my semi-shade garden. The worst thing about Platycodon that I think is worth mentioning is that they're very slow to emerge in spring, so might be damaged by over-zealous planting. Mark them well!

I have this perennial in my garden. I adore it's beautiful blooms and the gorgeous color it adds to my landscape. Thanks for this very informative post. I just found your blog, I'll be back.
www.skylarkmanor.com

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAl

I found your Article in Google . Thank you for your information, I’ve been looking for this info for a long time to do my report

May 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpromotional

We inherited this plant in the landscaping of a home we just bought & it's nice to have this information about them. They're very neat indeed. I'm an artist, not a gardener, so mine are purple. =) I hope they'll pop up in other places around the house too. Thanks Alan!

June 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMomzBoyz

Hey,I like this balloon flowers..Very beautiful flowers..I am very happy to see your garden...Keep sharing.
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August 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlaurahill

A year ago, my husband and I moved into our first home complete with neglected flower beds. I'm a novice gardener with a lot of enthusiasm but restrained my urge to dig up everything and start from scratch and instead have spent the first year cleaning up beds, pruning, educating myself and watching and waiting to see just what our garden has in store for us. In the spring, while weeding one day, I dug up what looked like two root vegetables. I allowed my preschool-age daughter and her friend to re-plant the roots anywhere they wanted, which just happened to be next to a clump of phlox. I really had no idea what these roots would do but sure enough they grew and I've just recently been rewarded with beautiful blue flowers which your website helped me identify.
With the help of your instructions I will hopefully be able to grow more next year from seeds. What a coincidence that the girls happened to plant them next to phlox as well - they make a beautiful combination.
Thank you from a novice (yet enthusiastic) gardener!

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTasha

I bought a small platycodon earlier this year in a pot, I did repot it about a month ago in good compost, but i have noticed the last week all the leaves are turning brown. It did not flower at all this year. The plant still looks alive, what should I do. I live in a zone 10 area. will it be ok to plant in the garden over winter? Thanks.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

Just wanted you to know that I enjoyed this article and it was immensely helpful. I was researching heirloom plants and this one was introduced to the gardens of Old Salem, NC in 1806. The Moravians kept excellent records and so it is certain that it was introduced at that time. The earliest recorded plant in Old Salem was Creeping Thyme, Thymus serphyllum (1600)

Hi, I just moved into a new house a few houses down from my old one. Last year I bought two balloon flowers. I adored them and thought they were the absolute neatest flower I had ever seen. I knew my two year old daughter would love to watch how they grew. Early this spring before we moved across the street I saw them sprouting back up. I was so excited. After we moved into the new house I noticed how beautiful they were becoming and so did a fellow gardener neighbor of mine. She told me I should go dig it up since nobody had moved into the house yet. So, I went one afternoon and reluctanly dug them up, not knowing if they would survive being transplanted. I immediately potted them since I had nowhere to plant them in the yard at the time. Day one, I was weary. Didn't know if they would make it. Day two, still unsure. I deadheaded everything that was dying or looked like it was about to and left it out in the rain. Day three, after the good rain and a bright morning sun it was back and full of new blooms! It is still growing beautifully. I get compliments on it all the time. If I didn't have to transplate a balloon flower I definitely wouldn't, but if you have a good reason try, it can be worth a shot. I tried, and it has been succesful so far! Thankfully :-)

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

I was unfamiliar with this plant, bought it because of the beautiful blooms. I have planted it in a container, wonder if it will do well or if I should put it in the ground. I would welcome comment. Mary

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I recommend that you plant it in the ground. Platycodon has a long tap root that enjoys burrowing downward into the earth. Under such growing conditions it should thrive for years and years. This is not the sort of perennial that will thrive in a container.

June 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

Hi! I see this is a fairly old post, but I'm going to try anyway. I've completely fallen in love with these flowers, and am very excited to get them planted along our front walk this spring. I usually plant from seed, but I've read these guys don't like to bloom the first year that way. Do you happen to know, if I buy tubers, will they bloom the first year?

December 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApril

Hi! I see this is a fairly old post, but I'm going to try anyway. I've completely fallen in love with these flowers, and am very excited to get them planted along our front walk this spring. I usually plant from seed, but I've read these guys don't like to bloom the first year that way. Do you happen to know, if I buy tubers, will they bloom the first year?

December 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApril

April,
Compared to growing perennials from seed, the tuber will appear to be a more expensive option. However, the added costs will not give you the immediate gratification you require. Even if you purchase the tuber from a reliable nursery, it will not perform well during the first season. This is one of the few perennials that you might as well plant from seed.

December 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterAllan

I planted two balloon flowers several years ago. I have always enjoyed the fact that they bloom so long and are so hearty. These flowers have self propagated in the beds, in an area that I had not yet planned, so i figured i would leave them until i was ready to plant that area. Today I finally started to work on that bed. When I started removing the balloon flowers, I found the root system was well entrenched and expansive. There are literally hundreds and I fear I won't be able to free the bed of these invasive flowers. Do you have any suggestions?

April 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpaul h

paul h.,
Every time gardeners attempt to lift this plant out of the flowerbed, they cannot help but leave behind in the earth a microscopic piece of the tap root. Consequently, the rampant invasion of Platycodon in your garden cannot be reversed with safe, organic, mechanical methods. Only a glysophate herbicide, applied according to manufacturer's instructions, will be effective.
Allan

April 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

May I know where to find the seeds ?Is it inside the dead flower?

July 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternoriza

I have a platycodon in a pot and it has been outside in the garden through a couple of winters under 4inches of snow at times, I recovered it this year and brought it into the house and it has been in flower for quite a long tome and is greatly admired by all friends. I have bought three more and these are in a trough, I hope that I can leave them there as I have nowhere else to plant them , will they survive and cascade?

August 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbarbara

Noriza
Yes they are inside the dead, brown seed pod.

September 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

Hi,
Glad I found the website. I need to move my balloon flowers as I mistakenly planted them in a shady spot a few years ago. They thrive, altho, they grow scrawny in the shade. I do have a new spot to plant, but should I wait until the spring? You mentioned replanting from seed. Should I look for seed next year?

September 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Don't wait for seed. and no need to wait until spring. If you are not expecting freezing temperatures for at least another month, transplant now. Many perennials are quite rugged and are not traumatized by fall planting.

September 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterAllan

Thanks Allan, for your suggestion!
Freezing temps expected soon here in Western NY, but I will try your suggestion if there is more gardening time..... dependent upon the weather. Found some seeds in the dry flower pods to use next spring!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Thanks Allan for the info. I tried to sow the seeds but it did not germinate at all.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNoriza

I saw this amazing flower (white) at our local nursery yesterday and bought it right away, I've never seen it before, neither has my Mother, who is a keen gardener. I did not know that they are also available in blue, else I would have bought the entire lot, as blue is my favourite colour. Hoping it will grow well in my garden in Somerset-West, South Africa.

December 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

Hi Allan! I transplanted mine and it didn't take long for the flowers, buds, and leaves to begin dying. I'm fine with that knowing that they will come back big and strong if not next year the year after. What I need to know is, should I cut it back or let it die back on it's own

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRandy J

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