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  • Writer's pictureDawn Bly

Hollyhocks in the Suburban Garden

Dear Lovely Assistant:

Hollyhocks flowering in front of grapevines
These hollyhocks are descended from seeds from my mother-in-law's garden.

In the realm of garden blooms, few flowers evoke a sense of nostalgia quite like hollyhocks. With their tall stalks adorned by colorful, ruffled petals, hollyhocks carry a timeless charm that harkens back to bygone eras. These heritage flowers not only add beauty to our gardens but also offer a unique opportunity for connection and reflection. In this blog post, we will explore the care and handling of hollyhock flowers as cut blooms, along with the profound impact they can have on fostering deeper connections with our loved ones. My original hollyhock seeds I obtained twenty years ago from my mother-in-law's garden after she passed, and I often think about her when admiring the blooms each summer.

Head shot of elderly woman
My mother-in-law, Charlotte. (Lovely's Assistant's grandmother.)

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) have a rich history and are deeply rooted in traditional and cottage gardens. These exquisite blooms were cultivated for centuries, and their presence can transport us to simpler times. Available in a range of vibrant colors, including pinks, yellows, and purples, hollyhocks add a touch of old-world elegance to any garden landscape.

I have found it pretty easy to grow hollyhocks in the suburban garden here in Olathe as well as elsewhere in the Kansas City area. They are fine with crummy soil, are okay with the worst heat our summer can throw at them, and the flowers still look great and the plants survive even when the leaves have been chewed to bits by insects, so they get a thumb's up from me! These sun-loving plants prefer well-drained soil. Regular watering and occasional fertilization will help them thrive. They are biennial, so you will get to wait until the second year for the flowers. After that, just let them go to seed and they generally take care of themselves. The birds and squirrels will help spread the seeds about for you if you do not care to collect and plant seed where you actually want them to grow next year.

When harvesting hollyhock flowers for arrangements, restrict yourself to cutting only the top 2 to 2 1/2 feet of the flowering stem. More than that, and the stem will have difficulty supporting its water needs. This ensures that they'll last longer once cut. To maximize the stem's vase life, remove any leaves that would be submerged in water and scorch the first few inches of the end of the stem that is in water, to keep the sticky sap from clogging the stem's water uptake. I "borrow" my husband's propane torch for this, but you can use whatever safely works for you. Placing the freshly cut and scorched stems in a vase with floral preservative will help them stay fresh and vibrant for days. This lady has done a marvelous YouTube video on preserving hollyhocks, and you can view it here. Keeping the stems upright will help the tops of the stems not to bend in the vase--hollyhocks are geotropic, which means they try to orient themselves to be upright to the center of the earth.

Hollyhocks in vase.
These hollyhocks have been in water for five days and still look great!

Hollyhocks have a rich symbolism that varies across cultures and time periods. Traditionally, they represent fertility, abundance, and fruitfulness. In Victorian floriography, the language of flowers, hollyhocks were associated with ambition and a sense of pride. Including hollyhocks in floral arrangements can convey sentiments of celebration, appreciation, and best wishes.

Beyond their physical beauty, hollyhocks possess a unique ability to evoke cherished memories and create meaningful connections. My father has never seen my garden in person, but I will text him pictures--yesterday I sent him some pics of my husband working the streetside bed that also happened to have some hollyhocks in full bloom. And...I learned about his childhood memories of hollyhocks with his aunt in Minnesota! (At eight years old, he thought hollyhocks were spooky, as they were eight feet tall with hairy stems.) Whether you're sharing stories with loved ones while strolling through a hollyhock-filled garden or gathering around a table adorned with hollyhock arrangements, these heritage blooms can spark conversations and foster a sense of togetherness.

Enjoy the flowers!

Man weeding flower bed.
Working amongst the hollyhocks and other plants.

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