Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Old Fashioned Hollyhocks

Old Fashioned Hollyhocks
(excerpt from my gardening column)

Back in the day when indoor plumbing was not yet known, a stand of the tall spires of hollyhocks would indicate the location of the outhouse so as a lady would not have to ask. The single varieties that self sow easily were used for this marker and became known as outhouse hollyhocks. A true cottage garden favourite, they can often grow to more than 2.4 metres tall and the nectar filled blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
During the late 1800’s rust disease nearly wiped out all hybrids and many varieties were lost. Breeders today have brought back numerous attributes of the old plants and have increased the resistance to rust. Shorter varieties of hollyhocks that don’t need staking have also been introduced and they are good container plants.
Although known as a short-lived perennial, hollyhocks are generally grown as a biennial. It will take two growing seasons before the plants will flower and they look spectacular at the back of a border or along a sunny fence.
Hollyhocks are easily started from seed either indoors in late winter or sown directly outdoors in early spring to flower their first summer. Seeds planted outside in midsummer will grow as a biennial and flower the following year.
They thrive in a rich, well draining soil in sun to part shade and will develop deep roots making them quite drought tolerant. Allowing them to reseed each year will result in a two year progression of flowering plants.
Hollyhock rust appears as yellow or orange spots on the upper surfaces of the leaves in early spring. Grayish brown pustules develop on the underside of the leaves and sometimes on the stems. The pustules may turn dark black as the season progresses and infected leaves will shrivel, turn gray and hang down. Remove infected foliage or entire plants if necessary.
Single flower forms are not as prone to leaf rust and are easier to establish with a perennial habit. Deadhead the wilted flowers to encourage rebloom until the end of the season unless self-sown seedlings are desired.

I am grateful to my friend Bella from Bella's Rose Cottage for allowing me to use a couple of photos of her hollyhocks for my column.  Bella grows some pinky-mauve ones by the corner of her gazebo which soften the look and contribute to the charm of her cottage garden.  Visit Bella's website to see more of her beautiful gardens.


  1. Never knew that bit of history about hollycocks and outdoor lavatory!
    lovely post, lovely pics, and i'm off over to Bella's now to see her gazebo.

  2. I love hollyhocks and still have the ones from my Dad's seeds-he gave me many years ago.
    Bella's are beautiful-love those colors.


  3. Hollyhocks are beautiful old flowers, another cottage garden favourite that I've never grown. It's interesting to hear about their status as signposts. I knew about honeysuckle being grown over and around the privy but always thought it might be a little hazardous with stinging insects being rather too close for comfort!

  4. What an interesting post, Judith! We had rust in our hollyhocks for the first time this year. I ended up pulling the diseased ones; next year I'll start again with fresh seed. We had such a wet spring and summer and I think that contributed to the rust; it's never been an issue before.
    Blessings, Beth

  5. HI Judith..what a super informative post ...I so enjoyed learning about all that! i am Hollyhock-smitten..especially the old varities...I adore them...there is just something missing wihtout hollyhock in the garden! Wonderful post..magical photos..thanks for spotlighting one of my faves!

  6. Hi Judith... I was so surprised... I saw you on the blogroll and thought you had hollyhocks... I am absent minded today. We went out last night to try to catch the Aurora Boriallis lights, they are rare here but last night showed some promise, No luck, but we have caught them in the past. You must see them up yonder?
    Thanks so much for the shout out! Your article was wonderfuly informative. Maybe I will have a better time reseeding with your info!

  7. For all the hollyhocks we grew as children, Judith, I had not heard of this wonderful history. I love outhouses, the style & this is a wonderful piece to note.

    Have a beautiful summer's eve ~
    TTFN ~ Marydon

  8. Hi Judith,
    thank you for answering my question on the Endless Summer-we did have a late heavy frost this year so that is probably the problem.


  9. I love Holly Hocks...wish i could grow them, however they do not seem to like where I plant the seeds. Great shots.


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