Hollyhock, Mix (Alcea rosea)
Hollyhock, Mix (Alcea rosea)

Hollyhock, Mix (Alcea rosea)

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This classic cottage garden staple lifts its bright faces skyward in the peak of summer, lending dramatic spires to the decadent days of the season. Aside from occasional staking up and cutting back stalks after flowering, there is little care required for these massive blooms, which can act as biennials or short-lived perennials. They proliferate readily, and one best cut the flowers before setting seed if they would rather keep them from spreading. Alcea rosea typically reaches a height of six feet, though can grow anywhere from two to twelve feet tall. Thought to be native to Turkey, China, and other parts of Asia, this plant made its way to Britain in 1573, where it gained its common Western name. The Anglo-Saxon term ‘holy-hoc’ which translates to ‘holy mallow,’ references the family to which this flower belongs, althea, from the Greek ‘altheo,’ ‘to cure’— the Hollyhock was once used as a medicine for swellings and inflammation.

It is said that English first encountered Hollyhocks during the Crusades, where they would use them in a salve for the hind legs of injured horses, ‘hocks’. Through the mid-1800s, an English horticulturalist named Chater of Essex bred Alcea Rosa for decades, resulting in some cultivars that continue in popularity even now. His development of consistently double Hollyhocks with large flowers even attracted the attention of Charles Darwin, who was fond of the striking blooms. Prized in Elizabethan days and for the first half of the 19th century, a rust disease that made its way to Europe devastated and all but ended Hollyhock cultivation on a global scale. In the 1930s, breeders were successful in reintroducing this species to gardeners all around.

One’s structures and gardens would be lacking without at least a few Hollyhocks around the borders, bees and hummingbirds darting from stalk to stalk. These plants also provide a home for the life cycle of Painted Lady butterflies, bringing even more beauty to the natural landscape as such. Hollyhocks grace their habitat with a zany sense of charming overgrowth, swaying around like the best kinds of unruly dancers.