Hollyhock time

June 8th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Individual hollyhock flowers are as lovely as the plants themselves.

As I see it, there’s no point growing hollyhocks unless they’re tall. Yes, you can sow ‘Majorette’ in March and it will flower in summer at less than half the height of your favourite traditional hollyhocks. But it’s not the same…

The tall swaying elegance of old fashioned hollyhocks is a classic cottage garden feature and now’s the time to sow the seed to ensure you produce the finest plants at flowering time next year.

There’s two types to choose from: single and double. Singles in a variety of colours from almost black through almost every shade except blue to pure white, are usually simply listed as ‘Giant Single Mixed’.

Double-flowered types, originally developed and refined by William Chater on his Essex nursery in the second half of the nineteenth century, are still usually listed as ‘Chater’s Double Mixed’, their powder puff centres cupped in a broad ring of petals. There are some lovely colours.

You can sow the seeds this month, inside or out. Inside, sow in pots in a greenhouse kept cool by shading, move the seedlings on into individual pots then stand them in a bright sheltered place outside. You may need to pot them on again into 12.5cm pots as they grow strongly. Outside, sow in a bright out-of-the-way corner, thin the seedlings until they’re 10-15cm apart. In autumn, set the plants in their final positions to flower at this time next year.

But you’ve been waiting for me to say something about the big hollyhock problem: rust. At its most destructive, in warm and wet summer weather, the orange pustules on the foliage can be devastating.

Sometimes hollyhocks simply ride it out and there are ways to help prevent infection and ways to treat it. The Royal Horticultural Society website has some excellent, comprehensive advice on prevention and cure – I refer you to them. It is treatable.

I’d especially say that as soon as flowering is over, pull them out. Don’t be tempted to keep them for another year as rust will surely strike.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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