Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hollyhock Hellos

Saturday, March 6, 2010

12 degrees here on the mountain this morning. Colder than was predicted but the high pressure that moved in is a large front and I could tell by the moon at 10 last night that the morning would be clear. By noon it should be to 40 degrees and I'll be encouraged that spring is only another month off.

This morning it's my turn to take the trash and recycling to the village. I don't mind the job at all and in fact it's a strange challenge because you never know what you will be charged. Last year the law changed and recycling could have fees as well as trash but there is no standard. A collection of gallon milk jugs in a 55 gallon plastic bag might be a buck or the same number on a string 50 cents. I noticed some of the attendants aren't all that strong with math skills and the amount owed always comes out in even numbers. No making change with even numbers. "Gimmee four bucks."

When I make the trip I never plan anything else for at least two hours. The thing about Vermont is people like to talk and you also never know who will be at the recycling center when you arrive. It's kind of like that any place in rural Vermont. Yesterday I stopped at the little village store on the way home from work to grab a paper. I was standing in line waiting for a conversation about a girl's boyfriend rolling his truck and going to jail the night before and I felt a pull on my jacket. I turned and a diminutive, older lady all of 5 feet tall looked straight at me and asked "How do you grow them hollyhocks?" Never saw her in my life but she knew me. I suggested we pay up and move outside to my "office" which was not a smart thing to say as I still don't think anyone understood me. At any rate we had a nice conversation and I probably have a new customer ....but not for hollyhocks.

I'm guessing but hollyhocks, an old New England favorite, are probably more of a country than an urban flower now. They get tall--even the smaller varieties are over 3 feet-- they take space and they add a bunch to the compost pile. They are susceptible to rust and Japanese beetles which diminish their popularity. I recommend to everyone that if they want hollyhocks, buy a package of seed and sow in early spring, be patient for the first year and enjoy the plants from then on.

The root system makes attempts at transplanting a futile exercise because breaking off the roots, even a couple, is sure death to the plant. I give away plants every year with the warning. Few are successful but many try. Winnie, our 82 year old Chief of Hydrological Services at the nursery (she likes to water) is about the only really successful transplanter. She uses care with anything she does and at 82 is not in a rush so that's probably why it works for her.

Hollyhocks come in singles which I like and doubles which I do not. There are a variety of new colors now including some that are almost black. I prefer the older, pale colors and like an extra large planting of the red crepe color.

Bees enjoy hollyhock flowers and if you cut a couple stems for an arrangement, the bees will follow you right to the door. Be sure to give an extra shake or two or you'll be taking grief from bringing bumblebees inside.

In fall after heavy frosts, most gardeners are quick to cut the spent stalks off and get them heading towards the trash or the compost pile. I do not do any cutting until spring. The hollyhock stalks at ground level are an inch or more in diameter and to expose the hollow stalks to the air is like creating a funnel for water to be directed at the critical root mass. Frozen water in frozen stems translates to dead hollyhocks. Your choice, my opinion.

So if you want some hollyhocks in your garden for next year, buy some seeds right now. Don't wait much longer as they are popular.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sky is clear, the blue jays are having breakfast and the cranberry muffins are almost finished baking.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
Facebook Fan Page: Vermont Flower Farm and Gardens


Elizabeth said...

Recently I learned about echinaceas from you, today I learn why my hollyhocks die - I am dedicated to the Fall Garden Cleanup. I will reform!

And, completely off topic, I somehow got on the David Austin list and got the rose catalog. Learned some important things about rose care, for my one floribunda.

It's a good thing I have more flowers than I can take care of, or I'd be buying a rose or two.

Stone Art said...

hollyhocks are truly lovely indeed

George Africa said...

Thanks, Sunny. I added Stone Art to my links today and the introduction has generated some good interest.


Jan (Thanks For Today) said...

Gorgeous! I love the cream with the pink inside. I don't have any and they do get so huge I'm not sure where I'd put them but I enjoy looking at them;-)