At the moment, I'm enchanted by hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), double, single, ruffled, pastel or in the deepest, darkest shades of maroon and plum. Langley is a city of lilacs in springtime and the most gorgeous and healthy hollyhocks I've ever seen in summer. Hollyhocks tend to be disease-prone in our climate, their foliage riddled with rust - not in Langley! Hollyhocks are growing along the roadside here, sticking out of hedges, edging gardens and blooming in the little alleys between shops in town. They tower overhead, growing a surprising 7-10 feet tall.
Hollyhocks are traditional cottage-garden flowers, yet are so tall and stately, with big, open flowers, that they're striking in any style of garden. The darker flowers like 'Night Watchman' (above) look more modern; the doubles in water-color shades like 'Apricot-Peach Parfait' are sweeter and more old-fashioned looking. Renee's Garden has a good selection of seed in exciting colors.
Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich soil that drains well. The secret to growing healthy hollyhocks is not to crowd them - plant them a couple of feet apart - so air circulates freely around their foliage. And keep them well-watered; a soaker hose laid along their root zone keeps them blooming happily. If you plant hollyhocks next to a fence, hedge or wall you hopefully won't need to stake them up.
A short lived perennial or biennial, hollyhocks live a couple of years, but tend to reseed themselves about so they return consistently to bloom summer after summer. Cut the stems back to the ground after they're done flowering, mulch well in late autumn, and enjoy a mid-summer hollyhock display for years to come.
Here are some of the hollyhocks gracing Langley alleys and byways on the morning of August 4th....