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Ode to the hollyhock

By Erin McIntyre

I view hollyhocks as a bit of an oxymoronic flower. The almost exotic-looking blooms are reminiscent of hibiscus and some have double flowers, with frilly tutu-like petals. Although hollyhocks are most known for edging English cottage gardens, out West we know them as the signal pointing to the outhouse. These showy flowers thrive on neglect, don’t need much watering, and grow tall enough to lean up against the privy. Strange that such an elegant flower is a beacon for the toilet.

Hardy hollyhocks don’t mind our hot summers, clay soils or lack of precipitation, for the most part. Spires of their blooms tower over the rest of my garden. It’s wise to plant them along a fence or something else tall for a little support in case of strong winds, as they easily grow 6 feet tall. These beauties bloom mid-summer to fall here in the valley, and can overwinter (and often re-seed themselves anyway). You have to be a little patient, though, as the most hollyhock plants will not bloom the first year you plant them (there is a variety called “majorette” that is supposed to bloom the first year, but I’ve never tried growing it). I think they’re worth the wait, though, as they reward you with spectacular blooms until fall. I’ve also heard that planting hollyhocks in the fall can help you get a head start for next year, so it might be a good time to think about that now.

One of our close family friends and neighbors had an entertaining trick for turning a hollyhock flower into a hula doll with a toothpick, which my sister and I loved as children. I can’t seem to get it quite right. According to Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service, hollyhocks are edible. I have no idea who would want to eat them – the texture is a bit repulsive with all that fuzz on the outside and the sliminess of the inside. Then again, lots of people like okra.


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