When the Platycodons bloom in a midsummer garden they sport pastel balloon buds that burst into open stars of satiny blue, pink, or white. I think I like the blue hue the best. They are slow to break growth in the spring so keep that in mind while grubbing around in the spring garden. That is one reason to give them a place with spring blooming bulbs where one is less likely to dig before they show above ground. I like that they have a strong bloom in the mid part of the season, and with dead heading can give a long show. If that isn’t a garden party you’d like to attend I don’t know what is!
Growing on tall stems with oval, dentate leaves, the flowers appear at the top with pale buds that if you like to take the metaphors a bit further, could be described as closed Chinese takeout boxes, or Japanese origami boxes. Like the common name, however, most people think of them as balloon-like. These open up into intense periwinkle blue in most varieties; there is also an ‘Alba’ form of milky white and a soft porcelain pink variety. Bellflowers are narrow plants and look best with a small group of them grown for more impact. Platycodons tend to have enough substance to not flop, although being somewhat tall, 12-36 inches, they might lean a little. Bloom time is July through August.
Species: Platycodon grandiflorum
Hardy in zones 3 to 8, the Bellflower likes average, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Keep them moderately watered. They like slightly acid soil, but aren’t at all particular.
The balloon flowers emerge very late in the spring, which makes them good companions for spring bulbs.
Deer Resistant, for gardeners plagued with those garden marauders. Although usually 2-3 feet tall they should be grown only 9 to 12 inches apart since they are narrow plants and don’t spread widely.
The best way to get more of these fine perennials is by taking cuttings in the spring or growing from seeds. Although many perennials are divided, the roots on the Platycodons makes this less successful, and they really don’t like to be moved. But you can divide and move them.
Grow the seeds of Balloon flowers (Platycodon) by sowing on the soil surface in either spring or summer; they take about two to four weeks to germinate at 68 degrees F.
As in the picture they are a perfect match for the ornamental Japanese grass, Hakonechloa Macra ‘Aureola’. One of the few ornamental grasses that tolerate part shade, this pairing could share a partly shady spot and light up that part of the garden.
Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) likes the same general growing conditions and comes in colors harmonious to the Chinese bellflower, their spikes of bloom provide a nice contrast of shape.
Place them with white lilies and white roses (Rosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’) footed by white and blue Campanula carpatica for a traditional English garden look. Tuck in some Gypsophila elegans throughout the planting. A good blue clematis, such as ‘Will Goodwin’ near the rose, on a fence, trellis or wall. Using white platycodon, campanula, and clematis, this easily becomes an all-white garden plan.
The name “Platycodon” means “flat bell”.
In the modern Chinese Materia Medica guides, platycodon is listed in the “phlegm-resolving” herbs.
In Japan, the pentagram is sometimes called the “Bellflower seal”.