Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hollyhock Hunger

Friends, I really miss my many hollyhocks.  Yes, I pine for peonies and rave on roses, but today I'm thinking only of light, cheery, woolly hollyhocks.  They bloom at the end of the roses for me, staring down the barrel at the coming heat of summer, but they've never failed to brighten up the borders as the early garden wanes. 

Stubborn and unknowing gardeners lump hollyhocks with other heirloom plants and disdain their contributions to today's gardens, but our grandmothers, as always, were sound and wise with the few ornamentals they chose to trouble with. 

Alcea 'Black Beauty'
We garden today with a multitude of companion plants for roses; of the value of clematis for complementing the bloom of a rose, of the tidiness of phlox and verbena and bulbs to extend the flowering season of a rose border, of the solid background of an ornamental grass.  But many have forgotten the lowly and coarse hollyhock in their rush to modern garden design.  Forgotten the height and structure and texture contrasts that hollyhocks provide against the shiny new rose leaves.  Forgotten the bright blooms that open wide each sunny morning and then fall cleanly to the ground a few mornings later.   

I sing today of the wonders of my hollyhocks.  I sing of the ethereal beauty of those cupped blossoms, translucent against their backgrounds but colorful and substantial in the border.  I sing of the large light green leaves, fuzzy and rough, hardened against drought and wind.  I sing of their rapid reach skyward, to tower for a brief time in the sunlight, to fade into the fall background of foliage and seed.  I sing of their carefree nature, self-seeding themselves into the perfect niche to complement a rose, requiring neither deadhead nor cultivation for procreation or survival.

Witness the delicate membrane of petal, fragile as glass.  Notice the feathery stamens and glistening pistil, aching to join forces. See the play of form and color between rose ('American Pillar') and hollyhock as pictured to the left.  Hail the vibrant crimson of 'Charter's Double Red' to the right.  Alcea all, rosea some, tough and proud faces turned to scorching sunshine, defiant and strong to wind.

I choose and covet my hollyhocks by their survival and their deep color.  I have long friendships with  'Charter's Double Red' and 'Black Beauty' and a beautiful pink variety whose name I've lost to the depths of time.  I've been briefly acquainted with more fickle visitors such as 'Charter's Double Yellow' and 'Queeny Purple', who have disdained my hospitality and faded on.  But if they live, they stay, and if they stay, they serve.  What more can I ask of a plant that can outshine a rose?

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