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.