Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 20 — Balloon Flower

balloon flower

Bees also enjoy the blooms of balloon flower.

While many plants are regarded as perennials, there are some that are decidedly more “perennial” than others. Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorous) is one that is truly worthy of the designation. Once established, a clump of P. grandiflorous will return year after year, demanding nothing special,  tolerant of many sites and soils, and with no insect or disease problems. And on top of this notable resilience, balloon flower will reward you with a long summertime bloom of cheerful lavender/blue flowers.

The plant’s name comes from the blooms, which resemble hot air balloons that eventually burst open to reveal the lovely star-shaped flowers. This feature makes them a fun way for kids to be introduced to gardening—they love to pop them.

Although they are said to prefer full sun, I have three groups of them in narrow beds along the sidewalk between my house and my neighbor’s, and with only two to three hours of daily direct sun each day they’ve thrived there for nearly 20 years. They are a little slow to emerge in the spring, but with a well established clump there’s little risk of forgetting where they are. Once they are flowering, regular deadheading of spent blooms greatly prolongs the bloom cycle.

The species P. grandiflorus with blue flowers and a height of 24 to 36 inches is taller than some of the pink or white cultivars.  Whichever variety you plant, I think balloon flower is one of the best choices for a cottage garden design. They’re a good height for the middle to the back of the border, they rarely flop over, they work well with many other plants, and their soft colors complement the cottage garden palette. Best of all—unlike some other cottage garden perennials—you won’t have to fuss over them or replace them every couple of years.

—Tom McKusick

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