Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Moving Hollyhocks

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Two sunny days in Vermont is a record for this summer. There were minor showers this morning but for the most part the temperature rose to summer-like levels. I was away most of the day but Gail said it was a nice change. August is supposed to be the summer month when tourism is higher in Vermont. The traffic on the roads today didn't support that theory and Gail said she met some very nice travelers but over all, visitors were less than she hoped for. Our friend Eric from Massachusetts will be returning tomorrow from Finland and within a week we'll get an appraisal from him including a perspective from across the big pond. Vermont has a record for international travelers and we want to see how things are doing. Eric had hoped to slip into Russia for a few days tour so it will be an interesting conversation when he returns.

When July ends and summer moves into August, the hollyhocks in this part of Vermont are very prominent. Something there is about a hollyhock that people really want to try to grow them, and then when that fails, they really want to buy them. We don't sell plants or seeds but we have a garden full on the hill above Peacham Pond. Makes some customers wonder about us.

Hollyhocks are really easy to grow from seed and you shouldn't be the least bit fussy about planting them. They prefer bad soil to highly organic, compost-rich soil and I tell folks they will grow better in the crushed gravel of our nursery walkways than they will in rich garden soil (which we do not have yet).

Growing from seed is really the way to go. There is ample time this year to purchase seed and get it in the ground. Finding seed in a store may be a challenge but visiting a friend who has been successful will find you more seed than you can ever plant. The plants are a different story.

Hollyhocks have a very strong root system comprised of some very important larger roots and a bunch of hair roots. They resent being moved and roots broken in the digging process almost doom the plant. We once had a customer who frequented us every year in the spring. Gail apparently liked something about his perseverance as every year she let him dig hollyhocks and every spring he returned with yet another story about how they had died. Once you have seeded in a bed and it gets established, falling seeds each autumn will encourage a larger supply each year. They are a memory from the past when every house door, every barn door, every outhouse had hollyhocks planted just outside. These were all singles, none of those fancy hybrids, and there were never any blacks or dark, dark purples.

Hollyhocks are one of those flowers that folks who do dried flower arrangements really like. I remember my mother in her earlier years soon after someone taught her the merits of combining Borateem borax and cornmeal to make a nice drying agent for flowers. Mom produced some of the nicest hollyhocks to use in dried arrangements. They almost looked like crepe paper. So did her pansies and violas. Today, however, people want hollyhocks in the garden. If you want to be successful, remember the size of the roots versus the ease of starting with seeds. The end product will be worth it.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's quiet, and Karl wants a walk....again.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

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