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ASK THE GARDENERS, Questions & Answers

Q We would like to visit some of the well-known public gardens in different parts of the United States, but we do not know where to find such a list with accompanying descriptions. B.G.

Charleston, W.Va.

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There is a very fine handbook called ``A Traveler's Guide to US Gardens and Arboreta,'' published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. More than 100 pages list and describe a great number of the best gardens and botanical collections the US has to offer. For a copy, write to: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11225, and send $3.95 plus 80 cents postage. Membership ($15 per year) in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden entitles members to receive current handbooks titled ``Plants and Gardens,'' which are published four times a year. Youngsters especially should be encouraged to visit these live treasures of plant collections, not only from North America, but from all over the world.

Q Many years ago in Virginia, my mother's garden included a blue perennial which she called ``balloon flower.'' The buds looked much like miniature inflated hot air balloons. They were blue and eventually opened into a flower looking much like a campanula. I would love to have some in my garden here in Illinois, but have been unable to locate either seeds or plants. Are they hardy here? Where might I find some and what care do they need?


Elgin, Ill.

The botanical name for balloon flower (also called Chinese bellflower) is Platycodon, under which you will find it listed in catalogs. They are in the campanula family and are attractive in bud as well as when fully open. Once established, they usually bloom from late spring on throughout most of the summer.

Florists now use them as cut flowers and as pot plants. Bedding plant growers are beginning to offer them in plant packs, ready to set into the garden. They are very hardy, like full sun and a well drained soil, but one that does not dry out too quickly.

A handsome new blue variety called Komachi is available from Park Seeds, Greenwood, SC 29647. The 1- to two-inch blooms retain their balloon shape throughout the season. They offer seeds of both double and single varieties also. Blooms of these open fully. J.L. Hudson, PO Box 1058, Redwood City, CA 94064, and Thompson & Morgan, PO Box 1308, Jackson, NJ 08527 offer blue and white single varieties. Wayside Gardens, Hodges, SC 29695 have started plants. Many garden stores will be offering these perennials this year.

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Q From my childhood I recall a colorful tubular flower with blotches and spots and a double lip. My mother called it Monkey Flower. She grew them along the edge of the woods in semi-shade and moist earth. She would start them indoors in our bay window about the last of March, then set them outdoors after frost danger was over. I cannot find them listed in catalogs. Perhaps they are under another name?


Jeffersonville, Ind.

The flower you are looking for is Mimulus. We find them listed in several catalogs under this name. New Varieties are striking. They make good hanging basket plants, as well as annual bedding plants.

Reader comment: You had a question in your Oct. 23, 1986 column concerning wild lupines. Of course, there is more than one variety of lupine, with five blue ones in Texas alone. We call them bluebonnets, and you cannot imagine their beauty in early spring. My reason for writing is to inform you of a source of bluebonnet seeds. It is Green Horizons, founded by the late Carroll Abbott, who dedicated his life to the protection of bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers. As you probably know, lupines, being legumes, add nitrogen to the soil. The address for Green Horizons is: 500 Thompson Drive, Kerrville, TX 78028.

D. DuB.

Sylvester, Tex.

Once we had the joy of seeing Texas bluebonnets in bloom - a truly spectacular sight. We find them listed botanically as Lupinus subcarnosus or L. texensis. All references suggest they are half-hardy annuals. We are not sure if they would grow where the letter writer of Oct. 23, 1986 lives (Novi, Mich.), but it should help those folks who have a climate similar to Texas. There appear to be wild lupine varieties (HORTUS lists over 40) for almost all areas of the continental US, some annuals and some perennials. Lupinus perennis appears to be the most common, growing in almost all states east of the Rockies. Lupinus polyphyllus is common to the Northwest. These should be listed in wildflower catalogs. We would appreciate hearing of sources. We are thankful wildflowers are being recognized, not only for beauty but also as an important part of our environment. They are invaluable as soil stabilizers, air purifiers, and water filtration units.

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