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Nicandra physaloides
Shoo-fly plant

I have a hazy memory of sowing a few seeds of this several years ago – but I haven’t done since, yet it pops up in some corner of my garden every year.

These lovely sky-blue flowers remind me of auriculas in the way they have those perfect white circles in the centre. They couldn’t be more different in habit though – Nicandra is a big, beefy, fast-growing plant to about 4ft high with lush, almost tropical foliage. It’s supposed to repel flies – hence the common name – and some use it as a companion plant to get rid of cabbage whitefly and the like.

The charms of these pretty blooms are fleeting – they last just a few days, and even then they won’t open if it’s not sunny. But the spectacular seedpods are worth all that coquettish reticence: they’re delicate papery lanterns some two inches across that start vivid green and turn nut-brown with age. They last for ages (if the kids don’t pop them all first) and shed their seeds generously: weed out all but one in only the places you really want them, or there won’t be room for anything else.

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