In search of hollyhocks

Last spring I was sitting with my mother-in-law on her back patio, sipping iced tea, when she asked me what I knew about hollyhocks. Other than loving them, I was pretty clueless. She had a single plant, and every year the leaves developed some sort of blight, and she wondered what to do. I offered to do some research, and found quite a lot of information on the internet.

A friend of Dave's lives on Maury Island, on the south shore facing Tacoma. Their garden is wonderful, and they have a huge screen of hollyhocks, single blooms of pale pink with darker pink around the centers. Lush, heavy foliage, soaring to ten feet, full of flowers. They self-seed freely, and each year the plants get stronger and produce more and more blooms. I went home thinking about where I could plant my own hollyhocks, and it came down to a single site: a narrow border between the orchard lawn and the driveway. This border used to be a perennial garden, but was taken over by a single lemon balm that grew into a fragrant hedge. Beautiful, but no one needs this much lemon balm!

A couple of weeks later, my mother-in-law surprised me with a beautiful peach double hollyhock plant... and the next weekend I started digging out the hedge. It was tough going; lemon balm has a massive root structure that sends up shoots all along its length, and it took a lot of shoveling to get all of it out. When I reached the end of the border, I relented and kept one small plant. Lemon balm makes a great filler for cut flower arrangements.

Once the border was ready, I went on my own hollyhock search. At Furney's, one of my favorite local nurseries, I finally found the plants I was looking for. They brought out some samples from the greenhouse to choose from, and I went home with three varieties, two more doubles (red and white), and a single in a gorgeous black/dark red color.

The plants thrived in their new home, and all of them bloomed except for the single variety. I love that I can see them from the house, from the patio, and as I drive up to the house. This year they're already big healthy plants, and any day now they'll start sending up flower shoots. Time will tell which of the varieties will do best here, and the mix of colors and shapes will be beautiful.