Think of an English cottage garden and one of the first things you visualize are clumps of Hollyhocks in different colours. They are sometimes classed as perennials but best treated as biennials or even annuals with some of the modern Hollyhock varieties available. Few other garden plants will give you the height in the first year that Alceas – Hollyhocks – will.
They are generally short-lived when grown as perennials year after year – sometimes faltering after just a few years. However, the seed themselves readily, so once planted, you normally have them as a permanent feature.
The plants will reach 2 metres in height in just a few months from sowing seed. The height will be accompanied with either single mallow-type flowers or sparkling rosettes of double flowers in colours ranging from pure white to deepest red – with a few creamy yellow-shades, and delicate pink blooms.
All this from just a packet of Hollyhock seed – easily sown and germinated – which will grow into the towers of colour for the back of the border or in a bed of their own. What a sight!
The alternative – if you are not too sure or do not have the facilities for seed sowing - is to buy the small Hollyhock plants which are available at most garden centres in early spring. Be aware that these small plants – with just a few leaves and being no more than a couple of inches tall, will quickly form a canopy of large dusky green leaves at the bottom of the plant.
The one thing you will not generally be able to have any say in, is the colour range of the plants – for they are generally sold as mixed colours, and the picture labels will confirm that.
The same applied to seed-sown plants, but there are also separate colours available. Once in flower, you can select the colours you want to keep and propagate for following years.
Hollyhock plants will need to be spaced at around 2ft (60cm) apart, and the soil surface between will soon be covered – serving as excellent ground cover - soon to send up the bud-clad towering stems which will be resplendent with flowers.
The flowers of the Hollyhock start to open at the bottom of the stems – soon opening all the way to the top into tall flowering plants by the middle of summer.
An open sunny spot is best, but they will tolerate just a little dappled shade. Be prepared to supports individual plants with a long bamboo cane if in a slightly exposed part of the garden, though they will normally sway back and forth in all but the strongest of winds. Virtually any type of soil is suitable if well drained, but avoid heaviest clay
Grow Hollyhocks from seed, which can be sown at various times of the year. Seed sowing times will invariably affect the time of flower – though all will flower mid-summer.
Slugs will enjoy the young plants – hiding conveniently under the foliage canopy.
The main disease is Hollyhock Leaf Rust, which generally affects the lower leaves first then upwards thereafter. Take off the affected leaves and burn, but far better to use a preventative fungicide early in spring. If buying a seed – you may be able to obtain rust-resistant varieties.
Greenfly can lurk under the large leaves, though rarely do serious damage. But do of course weaken and spoil the plant.