Hollyhocks, and why

single pink hollyhockI’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.

hollyhock creme de cassisThis dark one to the left is called Creme de cassis, from a couple summers ago.

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…

red hollyhockHollyhocks say cottage garden, perhaps more than any other flower.  (This watermelon-colored one makes me happy.  It’s like a party on a stem.)

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…

chocolate box

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.)

Pink single hollyhocksThese 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.

pink hollyhocksThese 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.”)

oval trayHere’s another vintage thing I couldn’t seem to part with. The vertical flowers on this tray aren’t very detailed, but I’ll bet you a cookie they’re hollyhocks.

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.)


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in Other great garden plants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Hollyhocks, and why

  1. We should form a club like AA except would hate to be cured of this addiction. Such look-at-me spires are made for the camera or the chocolate box and look daintily poised against the blue err white house. Not much rust on mine this year either but already they belong to Autumn’s musings.

  2. b-a-g says:

    Linnie – This is my first time growing hollyhocks and I’m hooked, even more so after reading this post (especially the bit about stone age gardening). You left a comment on my blog about my slug-eaten hollyhock which had hardly grown in its first year of life. You were right – it’s now huge and looks like it’s about to flower.

    • linniew says:

      Hooray! So glad that plant got its tall self together for you Bag. I am usually only patient by accident, because I get distracted, but sometimes it turns out to be the best approach.

  3. Greggo says:

    First year for hollyhocks. I’ve always liked them in other peoples gardens. Some of my seedlings are suppose to be black(dark purple), would be glad to trade for some of your pinks. So far I’ve had double pinks and single pale yellows with no rust. I also like the coarse leaves as a foliage contrast.

    Nice post.

    • linniew says:

      Very exciting, waiting for the first bloom on a new plant. I’ve grown the dark ones before, and they are cool, but too melancholy for me these days. I’ll save you some of the pink seed though Greggo, so you too can have party in your garden! (Send me a mailing address at summer’s end and remind me!)

  4. Hmmm, I’ve never considered Hollyhocks before – but you’ve inspired me to try them. The photos are lovely, I especially like the pink one with the red throat. I’ll have to research and see if they grow here so I can too become a Hollyhockist 🙂

  5. I really like the chocolate box graphic. Very pretty, but so are your hollyhocks.

    • linniew says:

      Some of those early 20th C designs are irresistible. I kept way too much of that stuff, especially tins and boxes. It must be symptomatic of something –but I’d rather not know.

  6. Sheila says:

    I still remember seeing hollyhocks growing in the cracks between bricks by a cottage door in Denmark. Gorgeous. I will have to return to your post to enjoy hollyhocks – I don’t think they grow well in the South or I would take you up on your offer of seeds …

    • linniew says:

      I would be happy to send seeds for your experimenting enjoyment! And if they can grow in the cracks between bricks, like dandelions do, well I’d say they are pretty darn versatile…

  7. I’ m a hollyhock fan. They should be celebrated much more than they generally are.

    • linniew says:

      Yes Esther I thought pretty much everyone grew them, but I guess that isn’t true. So much of what I assume about life isn’t true. Makes me worry.

  8. Bridgetidget says:

    Hollyhocks are so lovely and cottage gardeny. They always remind me of my paternal Grandmother as she always had them in her garden. Love the colour of the watermelon one.

  9. hillions says:

    Sadly, the only part of a hollyhock I can grow is the rust. When my baby was a baby our favorite story was The Rose in My Garden, which built the image of a garden over its pages, starting with the little border plants and ending with the hollyhocks towering over it all…there’s a bee in there somewhere too…and for years I tried to grow them. Oh that watermelon number makes me curl my toes. A party indeed! http://www.amazon.com/Rose-My-Garden-Arnold-Lobel/dp/0688122655

    • linniew says:

      Sometimes I think I was more marked than my kids were by the books I read to them. (I never recovered from reading Peter Pan— I am so impressionable…) The Rose in the Garden looks wonderful and I know just the baby who needs it for Christmas. Thanks!

  10. Grace says:

    I love hollyhocks but sadly I’m not as adept at growing them as I’d like to be. I see other people’s and drool and wonder if they’d miss them if I made a midnight visit with a shovel. 🙂
    I’ve noticed very little rust this year on my two successful plants. You’d think with all the rain and cool temps it would be just the opposite. Hmm… can we learn something here? Your photos are outstanding. I’ll be on the lookout for Tillie. How is she at watering?

    • linniew says:

      Yes rust and rain seem like they should be related differently. I guess if hollyhocks were iron maybe. I expect the two in your garden are pretty because everything in your garden is pretty Grace!

      Tillie is not good at helping in any way although you might interest her in stealing plants– could easily be her idea of a great hobby…

  11. Your hollyhocks are lovely! I only have a few but would like to plant more. I am inspired to after seeing yours.

    • linniew says:

      Hah! Another hollyhockist. I just knew it Butterfly! Yes plant more for next year. But give them some space so you can get out the door…

  12. kininvie says:

    Why have I never got round to hollyhocks? No answer to that one.

    • linniew says:

      “The time has come,” the Walrus said,
      “to plant of many things:
      of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–
      of hollyhocks and——–delphinium?”

  13. angel says:

    i love love hollyhocks. i wish i could grow them here in the philippines. such a beautiful collection you have there. happy gardening!


  14. Alberto says:

    Linnie I wouldn’t imagine you collect old chocolate. It sounds odd and it could make you sick if you eat it!!! Maybe give it to Tillie to tryout before…
    I grow and love hollyhocks too. Mine are from seeds from White and pale pink plants collected at Kew Gardens in London. They all come wine red by the way. Strange since I watered them with white wine only…

    • linniew says:

      Unfortunately that chocolate box has been empty of chocolate since about 1932….

      I’ve had good luck with hollyhocks coming true to color for the most part Alberto. And I could see trying maybe cool-aid for color watering (would probably kill them), but I’d never waste wine!

  15. Cathy says:

    Got to tell you, you are a woman after my own heart. My love of hollyhocks began with my grandmother, and like you, I plant seeds and continually get new plants when I see them on clearance. There is something that screams “country” to me and makes me warm and fuzzy inside. I had them growing against the front of my house for several years – there is a space between two windows and they filled it in nicely, but the rabbits got them this year. I did NOT grieve when a rabbit crossing the street was struck by a car…… I didn’t cheer either, but I thought, maybe now my hollyhocks will grow again! Next years’ are already started on my deck garden!

  16. Pingback: Save Hollyhock Seeds « Gardora.net

  17. Rachelle says:

    I am back-lurking aga-a-i-n…This post of your with the marvelous pictures (taken with the frumious camera of Mr.O?) is interesting, probably in ways you wouldn’t know. I have these very nice (old) memories of the hollyhocks growing up in the barnyard while populated by my grandfather’s Holsteins. No rust. No holes. Never-ever Never Land. Unfortunately, in the retail garden business it seems the typical hollyhock available has been the alcea rosea, probably because of the color range. I was looking at your beauties and they are not, I would guess, alcea rosea, but possibly of the genus/species alcea ficifolia (fiddleleaf hollyhocks). What we call garden mallows or malva are more closely related to the alcea lavateriflora, and are more susceptible to mallow flea beetle which leave the holes. I’ve grown the alcea rugosa which seems to come only in a pale yellow, but seems immune to the rust, but not always untasty to the mallow beetles. I am starting to see it more commonly in retail trade for this reason. I have pondered how dissimilar the various species are and whether there is a lot more interbreeding among species than we are aware, as this is a genus not of particular interest to plant breeders because of its ungainly height in bloom and oft-times biennial nature. At one point I thought possibly growing this in a moisture and nutrient rich environment might be key, given my memory or these childhood hollyhocks, but the more I consider it, especially given anecdotal evidence like your blogpost and others regarding rain and no rust. I think it may be not only growing conditions, but the particular specimen’s genetic make-up. I have been growing rugosa, and this year have some ficifolia that will be coming into bloom. I have back of the border planted them, in case of their possible dirty knees. We shall see.

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