I’ve grown hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) forever, sometimes well, often not. (I like the single flowered ones…) I used to have to pay per plant but now I can grow bunches in the greenhouse because the seed is easily collected and they are happy to germinate in pots.
Hollyhocks always come to mind when I’m doing that therapeutic but not always reasonable autumn garden-dreaming by the fire. Somehow I forget about the leaf rust and gravity problems and only recall their wonderful romantic spires standing like little cathedrals among the smaller garden housing.
And I’m not the only hollyhockist.
They are said to have been in cultivation for over five hundred years. (Not the ones in my pictures– be reasonable).
Then I read one place that they have been found in Stone Age burial sites.
Now, these flowers keep pretty well, and continue to bloom for some weeks in summer, but I think even Thomas Jefferson, who supposedly grew them himself, might have trouble identifying a petrified stem buried in an archaeological dig.
But I just love the image of a woman dressed in mammoth skins tending her hollyhocks in a bed just outside the cave entrance…
In the 1920’s and 1930’s they showed up everywhere, not just in gardens but on embroidered cushion covers, framed color prints, tea-cozies and candy boxes…
When I had an antique shop I came across these things all the time. This is a chocolate box I kept because I loved both the hollyhocks and the gate. (Some lifetime I will have a walled garden with a gate like that, and maybe a little pool inside and benches against the rock wall with vines growing over them on trellises and maybe just a few fairies living under a really big fern.)
These pink ones with red throats are from two plants growing by the kitchen door on the west side of the house. Just like Peter Pan in the theater, these hollyhocks are supported by hidden ropes. Or as Lys de Bray writes of them, “The plants should be tied as they grow or they will crash to the ground like factory chimneys during summer rainstorms.”
Sure enough, during last week’s rain I saw these very ones begin to tip and I frantically got out the last-minute posts and twine. (I felt like a sailor at sea, hysterically bringing in the sails after the storm has already arrived.)
This group of hollyhocks stands about six feet tall this year– they seem to have loved all the rain. In spite of my staking efforts they are still leaning so that we have to sort of walk around them to get out of the kitchen door.
These pink ones are a little more vivid color than the ones by the kitchen door, but the centers of the flowers aren’t as dark. They and the red ones are only about four feet tall, haven’t been staked at all, and have been returning every summer for several years now. (“Good plant, stay.”)
These plants are easy to grow from seed. I read, just today, that they are as easy as sunflowers. Now, I can barely grow sunflowers, but hollyhocks always sprout in pots in my greenhouse.
Besides the problem with falling over, the great hollyhock affliction is leaf rust. I don’t see it this year, so I guess it doesn’t like rain. Usually the lower leaves are affected, but I ignore it. The rest of the plant just continues about its life, growing and blooming, and pretends those lower leaves don’t exist or maybe belong to the rose next door.
I always gather the seeds at the end of the summer, and each bloom makes lots, so if you need any let me know. Then you too can become a hollyhockist. (You’re probably one already.)