Plant Pick – Growing Hollyhocks
I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is the hollyhocks.
Hollyhocks are a quintessential cottage garden plant, but done right, they can be well adapted for most garden settings. These are tall plants, and though their large, circular leaves remain low, it’s the flower stalks that you’ll find soaring into the sky during the summer months. And the nice thing is that they flower from the base up, meaning that the spire continues to grow and become covered in blooms as the months pass by. It means there’s continuity of colour throughout the summer and into early autumn, with stems up to six feet high pulling a garden towards the heavens above.
The flowers relative gigantic size as compared to the foliage is a huge bonus. Whereas you might ordinarily plant tall plants at the very back of the border, hollyhocks work quite well in the middle too. Their leaves become an extra collage amongst the smaller plants, whilst the flower stems rise high above everything else. It produces interest, something to draw your eye upwards but also architectural pillars through which to look and spy what’s beyond. It’s this I particularly like in all garden settings. For example, hollyhocks can be used to break up continuous lines of sight in very much the same way as verbena and foxgloves can be. In fact, if you want a similar outlook throughout the year, use foxgloves for spring and early summer, and then switch to hollyhocks later.
At this time of year (autumn) it’s a great time to start collecting hollyhock seeds. They produce a lot, so you shouldn’t be without, whether you’re collecting from your own garden or begging a few pods from a friend to add to a collection. A word of warning; they are a biennial or short-lived perennial. It means you can wait a couple of seasons before flowers appear and then, in many situations your plants will die. Therefore, it’s a constant cycle of growing on new plants and getting them ready. However, the soil’s still warm now so if you pop in a couple of seeds you’ll get some growth and, maybe, a few flowers next year if you’re impatient. Though, it’s worth mentioning, they won’t be at their complete stature until fully mature.
Overall, despite being a perennial man, there are some plants that just have to sneak in. And, for my love of hollyhocks, these are one plant that can’t fail to bring a smile when I see them in a garden.
Thrives In: Full sun and sheltered aspects. They’ll happily grow in exposed settings but you MUST either stake them or use plant supports if you’re not to see flopped plants and snapped stems.
Yearly Care: These biennial plants require a bit of care if you want to get them to their maximum height and beauty. Plant seeds in spring (or autumn if you want them to get a head start) and grow on – often pots give the best results. They can be susceptible to rust, so remove any leaves that show any signs of this and keep well watered so they’re not drought stressed. Stake plants in their flowering year to ensure the spires go as high as possible, and collect seeds as blooms fade.
Growing Medium: Chalky, loamy or sandy soil. Not keen on clay, where it becomes waterlogged and prone to rot.
Quick Tip: Use hollyhocks not only at the back of borders, but the middle too. By bringing them slightly forwards you’ll gain an increased perception of depth when the tall flower spikes appear.