A Guide to Planting Hollyhocks
17.01.2024 - 02:49
/ Frederick Leeth
There are lots of signs that summer has arrived—children get out of school, otherwise normal men get out of regular clothes and into lime green golf pants, and, in many gardens, the weeds get out of hand.
To me summer means hollyhocks. Flower fads come and go like UFO sitings, but hollyhocks, those tall, lanky members of the mallow family, remain popular.
In Old English “hock” is synonymous with “mallow”. The mallow plants that returned from the Middle East with the Crusaders were called “holy” or “holly” hocks.Whatever the name, the plants and their bright flowers were a hit in the color-starved Middle Ages.
In America, the common hollyhock (Alcea rosea) could easily claim membership in the D.A.R., having arrived with the colonists. As almost everyone knows, Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello. As a few people know, Celia Thaxter, late 19th century gardener and poet, grew them in her famed beds on Appledore Island, off the New Hampshire coast, where they were immortalized by American Impressionist painter Childe Hassam.
Seeds and plants have been available from catalog vendors since the advent of mail order. As I recall, a couple of years ago, both White Flower Farm, Wayside Gardens, and the venerable English firm Thompson & Morgan all featured hollyhock cultivars on catalog covers.
Hollyhocks were the first plants that I grew as a child, mostly because there was a small stand of them established in our backyard, and the seeds were easy to collect and sow. I did not know at the time that common hollyhocks are biennial, producing vegetative growth the first year after they are planted and flowers in the second year.
Fortunately, the plants in our backyard did what hollyhocks do best—self-seeding—and we had flowers every