Sowing hollyhocks

Posted: Monday 9 September 2013
by Kate Bradbury

I love hollyhock spires in late summer, and watching the last of the year’s bees pollinating them. They also produce masses of seeds and are very easy to grow.

Pink hollyhock

I’ve been rather preoccupied with biennials lately. They’re my type of plant: relatively hassle free and easy to grow, and they produce masses of seeds at the end of the season (so seedlings should pop up all around the garden). Last week I transplanted self-sown honesty, teasels and viper’s bugloss for next year, squeezing them into recently weeded gaps in the border and mulching the soil around them. These plants may put on a little more growth before the weather turns cold, but it’s next year that they’ll fulfil their potential. I can’t wait.

I’ve also been collecting and sowing seeds of biennials. I currently have a fruit bowl full of honesty discs that I don’t know what to do with, while trays of hollyhock and foxglove seedlings are cluttering up the patio.

I’m hoping to increase my stock of these plants in the garden, especially hollyhocks (Alcea rosea). I love their tall spires of flowers in late summer, and watching the last of the year’s bees pollinating them. Technically perennials, hollyhocks are usually treated as biennials because the foliage is very susceptible to rust – to prevent this fungal disease getting out of hand it’s best to dig up the plants after flowering. Hollyhock rust can also infect related plants (including common mallow), so it can be hard to eradicate from the garden once you’ve got it.

That's why I’d never grown hollyhocks until a few years ago – what’s the point, I'd reasoned, if they only end up disfigured? However, my three-year-old plant has so far remained rust free. The problem is that I’ve only got one. Whatever the reason for this – slugs and snails or poor guardianship on my part – my hollyhock, albeit with beautiful creamy-white flowers, looks a bit silly on its own.

Like biennials, hollyhocks produce masses of seeds at the end of the season and are very easy to grow (they just need staking in summer). So, not only did I harvest seeds from my lovely creamy-white plant, I also gathered some from a gorgeous dark pink hollyhock growing beside the nearby canal, and a lighter pink one in a friend's garden. I sowed some in a seed tray and scattered the rest in the communal garden of my flats.

Many of the tray-sown seeds have already germinated and are nearly ready to transplant into pots. Part of me wishes I’d kept each colour separate and labelled them accordingly, but I suppose it introduces the element of surprise.

I doubt I’ve sown the seeds early enough to see flowers next summer, but I may be lucky. Regardless, I’m hoping that, with an eye on the slugs and snails and a little extra care and attention from me, my young hollyhocks will eventually produce beautiful spires of white and pink flowers to complement my viper’s bugloss, teasels and foxgloves.

Thanks to Alan Jones for kind permission to use his photograph.

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