'Hollyhocks are almost as easy to grow as sunflowers and would probably be grown as often if more gardeners were aware of their good nature. Unlike many other dramatic flowers that are simpler to admire than to actually grow, hollyhocks need no coddling. Their character is superior to their reputation and they are best praised by being grown.'
Well I was utterly convinced and enthused by this information that came with my hollyhock seeds, three different varieties, 125 seeds, plenty of margin for error, what could possibly go wrong.
Well. you might recall last year's Hollyhockery fiasco...all leaf, a lot of rust and certainly no flowers to show for it. I had been a martyr to the seeds the year before as well and was expecting a full house from this lot.
The advice came pouring in from all quarters (thank you...heeded) and it was obvious that, as well as being kind to the slugs, I had been far too kind to my sole surviving Alcea rosea 'Nigra, and my one and only Alcea ficifolia...the Antwerp or Fig-leaved Hollyhock. There was only one solution and that was to dig up the clumps and throw them into a bed down at the woodshed/washing line corner of the garden and forget about them. It isn't even really a bed, more a weedy overgrown messy corner, where things seem to thrive nonetheless, but doubtless the slugs would eat the lot, I'd never see them again and that would be Hollyhocks struck off my list and out of my life and my imagination.
I have feigned lack of interest all year for fear I may be tempted to feed them, or weed around them, or keep the Rambling Rector from smothering them, or deal with the slugs. In fact I have been the mistress of neglect whilst keeping an eye when I hang out the washing, and the hollyhocks have loved me for it...
The dark maroon flowers do change colour with the light, as the instructions that came with the seeds (from seedaholic.com) said they would. Near-black on overcast days with a hint of red when they catch the sun, apparently described as early as 1629 as being ' of a darke red like black blood.'
I am hopeful we might get another year or two out of these, but as I type they are going to seed so I can at least put myself through the misery all over again and sow some more knowing it will be worth the effort.
Now the Alcea ficifolia, 'Antwerp', variety, the one that was all leaf and no flower last year, behaves slightly differently, and isn't it odd that no matter how well I read the blurb, none of it makes sense until I see the thing grow. Looking back I think I was being impatient, I think this is what is supposed to happen because now we have a bushy, multi-stemmed plant that will apparently behave like a perennial, about which I am well-pleased.
The leaves are indeed fig-leaf shaped but the Antwerp has been a revelation for its flowers, a delicate shade of primrose yellow with a blush-pink centre that colour-matches our Elephant Hawk Moth population, all as if Farrow & Ball had designed it thus..
If this isn't an Elephant Hawk Moth please do say, I frequently need saving from myself on here and am always grateful when you tell me....but isn't it...well...pretty.
If I have one regret it is that in consigning the Hollyhockery to the far reaches of this 3/4 acre garden we don't enjoy them as often as we might, and have to make the journey to visit them, but that seems a small price to pay for this moderate success.
I don't want to get over-confident, but do you think we might have cracked it?