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Entries in garden composition (2)


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 .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

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

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. 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.


The Gardener's Color Palette: Book Review for

The Gardeners Color Palette, paint your garden with 100 extraordinary flower choices Tom Fischer & Clive Nichols, Timber Press

The title says it all. Designing with flowers is an art and many gardeners with a penchant for creative expression report that planning flowerbeds is akin to painting. Imaginative gardeners will be pleased that the contents of this book are arranged by color, like a box of watercolor paints, making the planning and execution of a floral color composition in the garden a much easier task.

The book is divided into ten color-based chapters: Red,  Orange-Peach, Yellow-Cream,  Green-Chartreuse,  Blue,  Lavendar-Lilac-Mauve,  Pink-magenta,  Deep Purple-Maroon-Plum,  Brown- Bronze- Copper, and  White-Ivory. Within each of the ten color chapters, are photographs of ten flowers, including perennials, bulbs, and flowering shrubs. Some are popular and well known and some are uncommon flowers such as Fritillaria, Corydalis, and species Lilies. Every plant is profiled with its Latin and common name, a pronunciation guide for the Latin name, its classification as perennial, bulb or shrub, the height and spread at maturity, bloom time and hardiness zone. In addition, each profile includes clearly identifiable care symbols for light and moisture requirements. Most impressive, however, is the wealth of information encapsulated into a few lines of expert advice that accompanies each plant’s profile. Mr. Fischer writes beautifully; each paragraph is a gem, like each breathtaking image that accompanies his text.

Some of the plants included in this book are hardy from zone 6 and up and are, therefore, new to me because I garden in Zone 5; that does not make them any less admirable. Of the 100 plants featured, here are a few that I have added to my wish list:- Red Helenium Rubinzwerg, Orange Helenium Wauldtraut, Yellow Helianthus Lemon Queen, Pulmonaria Blue Ensign, Purple Veronicastrum virginicum Apollo, Pink Sanguisorbia obtuse, Purple papaver orientale Patty’s Plum, and White Actaea matsumurae White Pearl. I am indebted to the author not only for introducing me to some new varieties of plants but also for reminding me about some forgotten old favorites.

Since a garden book is only as good as the collaborating photographer, it is a delight to discover Clive Nichols’ exquisite close-up photos of the 100 flowers. Selecting Mr. Nichols was one of three wise decisions made by the publisher. Another was to have asked Mr. Fischer to write the book, in the first place. Moreover, the best decision of all was to market this book at a price so attractive that it makes an excellent party favor, get- well present, or Christmas gift. If I were hosting dinner, I prefer that a guest bring this book rather than a box of chocolates. If I were a bedridden gardener, I hope someone would send me this attractive publication to cheer me up. When Tom Fischer first sat down to write this book, I’ll bet he never imagined he would be creating the ultimate hospitality gift.