The unopened flowers of platycodons resemble hot-air balloons, for which they are named. Balloon flowers are clump-forming perennials with alternate leaves of light green on stems that usually grow between one and three feet tall. They bear two- to three-inch balloon-shaped buds that open to bell-shaped flowers with five points, in pink, blue, and white.

How to grow: Balloon flowers like moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. They prefer places with cool summers but are easy to grow in other areas, too. Plan the plant's position carefully and mark it, for spring growth is late to appear.

Propagation: By division in mid-spring or by seed indoors in winter or outdoors.

Uses: Blooming for most of the summer, balloon flowers are attractive in borders, with the smaller types growing best along garden edges.

Related varieties: Fuji White is dwarf and bears white flowers; Mariesii has blue flowers on 12- to 16-inch stems; and Shell Pink bears soft-pink flowers.

Scientific name: Platycodon grandiflorus

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