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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 (38)

Three years ago, I planted several different types of balloon flowers. For the next several years, I was unable to pay much attention to the flower garden. This year, I couldn't even remember what they were until they began to bloom. Such a beautiful sight after being ignored for years. There was a short blue version, a taller blue version and the most beautiful white velvety version. I'm glad I was unable to fuss about them for several years - my impatience might have cost me the visions they presented.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

Three years ago, I planted several different types of balloon flowers. For the next several years, I was unable to pay much attention to the flower garden. This year, I couldn't even remember what they were until they began to bloom. Such a beautiful sight after being ignored for years. There was a short blue version, a taller blue version and the most beautiful white velvety version. I'm glad I was unable to fuss about them for several years - my impatience might have cost me the visions they presented.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

Three years ago, I planted several different types of balloon flowers. For the next several years, I was unable to pay much attention to the flower garden. This year, I couldn't even remember what they were until they began to bloom. Such a beautiful sight after being ignored for years. There was a short blue version, a taller blue version and the most beautiful white velvety version. I'm glad I was unable to fuss about them for several years - my impatience might have cost me the visions they presented.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

Three years ago, I planted several different types of balloon flowers. For the next several years, I was unable to pay much attention to the flower garden. This year, I couldn't even remember what they were until they began to bloom. Such a beautiful sight after being ignored for years. There was a short blue version, a taller blue version and the most beautiful white velvety version. I'm glad I was unable to fuss about them for several years - my impatience might have cost me the visions they presented.

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAggie

I find it funny that some gardeners are plagued with fears of invasive plants. Do you lie awake in the night with these worries? It is a beautiful flower. It is not Kudzu. Give up your need to control and have a cup of tea. Just enjoy them. Did you know the sacred Lotus plant is invasive? I say go ahead and invade me-- please!!! At least I will die happy.

September 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErica Kirchner-Dean

Loved reading this post and the replies. I garden in Hong Kong a rarity in itself but can you imagine my delight to learn that Hong Kong is the Southern most extreme where Platycondon grandiflorum is found growing wild. Yes we are for all intensive purposes the tropics, with extreme humidity rainfall and heat, our winters are rarely drop bellow 10% and only for a few brief days. Perennials do not grow here at all, they rot, they wither, they scortch and drown but they don't grow. Blue anything is a rare thing so imagine my delight, a blue perennial of unimaginable beuty that is also a native!
Of course no one sells them here, and those we have are so rare they are protected up on a single mountain slope. Luckily I discovered a shipment of pot plants from Holland so I bought them all, we'll all the blue ones, the pinks and white looked sad and drab especially the pink, it's an awful rotten salmon pink, when the flesh has already paled into a state of decay, having long lost its rosy blush. Apparently there is a lovely shell pink but this was not it. So I've planted blue Platycodon all over my garden, I can't get enough.

It's been but three weeks but I'm very impressed so far. They are putting on a terrific display in 33% and 80% humidity, a cyclone and torrential rains and fierce sunshine and heat ,not a leaf has wilted.These are obviously tough as boots but look for the world the most delicate tender temperate perennial you could imagine. I'm hoping they come back next year with the same vigour.
I think mine are the dwarf or short variety as they are only 15 cm tall, blue as blue can be, not purple or violet but sky blue. I think there might be a dark blue too I hope, that would also be very welcome. Mine arrived covered in flower in smallish pots which I just planted and watered. I can't imagine them looking better but then I please very easily perenial wise. The only other perenials so far that will do it for me are the Verbenas, bonariensis and rigida and one or two of the blue Asters.
I truly hope they become invasive but I'm not celebrating just yet and still thinking of them as bedding plants. I hope I'm pleasantly surprised and they thrive. Given what I've read here they should flower untill Christmas! Here's hoping.
I'm a little startled at how big the flowers are, shouldn't I prefer a more dainty version? Mine are giants on dwarf plants? I'm not complaining and blue is blue but is there a smaller more elegant flowered version around, or is this it? If there is I shouldn't be at all surprised if I take a trip to somewhere like the UK to get me some. They are that nice.
If you live in Southern Florida I advise you to give them a try, as a native in Hong Kong Southern Florida should be a stroll in the park.

August 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnton

WHITE balloon flowers are lovely and classic. They bloomed summer through November (zone 7) when everything else was browning. Yes, I deadheaded. They are bright and true-white and seem to glow in the dark; you can see them by the light of the moon. I am growing more indoors from the seed pods of my existing 5 plants and will be creating a long border of all-white balloon flower plants in the spring. I'll post a picture next year, or maybe the year after when they grow fuller and bloom.

November 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEAM

Well it turns out Allen is right, mine didnt come back as strongly the second year. They came up but were strange little wisps of plants with much reduced sized flowers. This is going to be their third year so we will see if there is an improvement. I have them in large pots and have problems with pot weevel grubs eating roots sometimes so Im not entirely sure if they've been responsible. Im loath to dig around and disturb the roots to find out......

I discovered you can purchase quite large roots of these to plant in winter, these are sold freshly dug as a medicinal herb by the bunch.

Meantime Im hoping those I've planted come up stronger. Or it looks like I will have to treat as an annual type thing. Roots or plants.

I haven't seen the true white as some have written about, that would be nice.

Interestingly the one I planted amongs the dense roots of the orchid Arundina graminifolia seems to have come up the strongest, it sent up decent shoots and flowered for a long time.....either because the weevels had more to eat than it or it quite likes it's roots in slightly less fertile soil. The soil for the Arundinas is almost pure acidic sand soil.

November 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnton

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