This summer I’ve rediscovered the hollyhock. Last year, our neighbour had a tall magnificent display of crimson hollyhocks which I could catch glimpses of through a nail hole in the back fence. They swayed and glowed against the grey of the planks. She gave me a little dried pouch of the seeds which I scattered in the soil. Obviously, they needed more attention than that, because nothing happened.
Last spring, on one of my ramblings around Bunnings garden section, I saw a punnet of hollyhocks – Dwarf Pastel. Well, I didn’t particularly want ‘dwarf’ nor ‘pastel’ but as that was the only offering, I bought them and planted them in the new flower bed up against the back fence. The seedlings sat there, not dying, and gradually filled out and it seemed that I had some hollyhock plants. But would they flower this summer?
Over the weeks and months, they spiked up, looking modestly dwarf and green.
By mid-January, flower buds had bulged against the green columns of the stalks. What colour would they be? And then a succession of revelations! First a very pale pink, soft crinkled flower unfurled its skirt, then a creamy apricot, a crimson and last, another pale pink. Each bloom looked a bit pallid as it unfolded but gained depth after a day in the light. And so much for ‘dwarf’! Only one has remained at about a metre high. It is the one in the most sun and it has also branched out into a bushy plant with a few stalks. The ones against the side fence with less sun have grown and grown, stretching up tall and thin to have more sun on their flower heads.
I’ve loved seeing their soft pretty flowers against the green foliage and the grey weathered fence. I can see them from inside the house and also from the back deck.
They’ve brought back memories of the Eaglehawk hollyhocks. We never had any in the garden when I was a child but much later, after the almond tree had gone and Mum and Dad had put in a low curved stone wall to tidy up that bit of lawn and slope, hollyhocks appeared on the lawn side of the wall. They were huge spires of green and pinky crimson, taller than I am. Mum would laugh at them in amazement, almost apologetic about their abundance. They just seemed to look after themselves and reappear each year. The Eaglehawk soil is rich and the sky, open and wide.
I would take seed back to Warrandyte, where we lived at the time, sprinkle it, but nothing happened. I’m not very patient with seed but now think I need to concentrate on respecting it and doing the seed germination thing properly!
Our soil is not a natural for hollyhocks. We are on the slope of an ancient dune curving through the heart of Cape Paterson and have hydrophobic sand. I’ve dug in compost, much to the delight of Mrs Blackbird, watered and mulched and it’s improving very gradually. This year I put in a soaker hose to snake through the flower bed, and that has been a great help.
It mystifies me how the hollyhock seeds itself and exists so casually in stone European streets. I see small pink spires creeping out of crevices and bursting from a tiny patch of earth between a wall and a stone pavement.
These hollyhocks have typified what a lot of gardening is for me. It’s about embodying memories and ideas of gardens past and bringing them in to the present and then the future.