Monday, June 12, 2006

Prescott Is a Hollyhock Kind of Town

"Do you know where I could get seed for single hollyhocks?" The clerk, toting up my overly ambitious purchases at Flagstaff Native Plants last summer, added, "I've had several inquiries lately."

"Not in commercial quanitities." I told her I had a small collection of seed at home which had started gardens in Texas and a couple of Arizona towns, as well. Seed I had gathered walking the older neighborhoods of Prescott where you can't miss the hollyhocks at this time of year.

What I didn't know at the time was that finally a commercial seed company was again packaging single hollyhock seed. None other than Burpee, the gold standard for gardeners.

And available at Wal-Mart, at that.

For years, the only plants or seeds available commercially have been the overly bred, fancy, fluffy doubles. Attributable, no doubt, to an American mind-set that goes for giant radishes and "blossoms as big as saucers."

Interest in the old-fashioned kind of flower might be attributed to the current fad of down-home chic that we suffer as comfortable old-time Western towns are repurposed (suitable, that horrid word!) into boutique mountain towns.

But in my better moments, I credit it to the plants' beauty. After all, what other flower can get made into a pretty little doll so easily?

If there were to be a vote, I'd choose the hollyhock as Prescott's civic flower! It's settled in and happy in our climate -- and is especially suited to the local Victorians, such as the Grove studio (above) on, yes, Grove St. or the buildings on the Sharlot Hall grounds.

You'll find old-fashioned single hollyhocks growing all around the older section of town. I suspect the reason is that over on Grove St., down on Granite, in many alleys and elsewhere, the hollyhocks are the next thing to wild.

(Don't forget, there are native Arizona plants that are close cousins to the hollyhock. Bright apricot to orange globe mallows that grace the roadsides from Prescott all the way down to The Valley. And at higher elevations, near permanent water sources, delicate pink checker mallows.)

Hollyhocks are amazingly persistent. That thriving plant above is in among other species dried up because the drip system hasn't been delivering. The plant below comes up every year right at the street on Park Avenue. (This year of serious drought is the first time I've seen it give up completely. The leaves are brown and on their way to dust.)

Even when the soil covers our basic granite only a couple of inches deep, the hollyhocks really try! I've got a plant, several years old, which has found (or made) a crack in the stone; it comes up every year, may get as high as 8 inches, opens a blossom or two and produces a single seed pod before the frost nips it. There's one median strip on west Gurley where the property owner keeps mowing; when I last counted, there were 27 hollyhock plants trying their damndest to grow up. Most have been there several years.

Even the formerly Valley National, formerly BankOne, now Chase bank on Gurley has its own hollyhock (below), if the maintenance people don't discover it before it blooms!

And I noticed that down along the bank of Granite Creek at the mural below the Bank of America, there are a couple of hollyhocks. I think you can thank me -- I made a point of scattering seeds down there several years in a row. Or was it columbine seeds?

Even if the more stiff-necked tidiers manage to corral all the downtown hollyhocks and make them behave, there are still some more-laid-back business folk who don't mind if a flower or two (or several) jump the bounds of the planter and make themselves comfortable right at the sidewalk. Long may they live and prosper.


Anonymous said...

Hi! followed you here from your comment on my HomeCast post about hollyhocks. This was fun to read, and I enjoyed the pictures. What an interesting site you have here!

Doris Joa said...

Hi Granny,
I enjoyed visiting your blog and the pictures of the hollyhocks. What beautiful colours they have.
Also your blog is very interesting to read. Will come back.

Granny J said...

Thanks for stopping by! Hope I'll see you again real soon now...

k said...

miss granny, i've loved hollyhocks all my life and agree with you 100% about this ridiculous *double* bit. moss roses, you name it. senseless.

where was i?

oh! i lived in arcadia ca till age 7, then chicagoland till age 22, now in florida. ft. lauderdale.

zone 10.

it may seem superfluous given our wide selection of mallows that thrive here. but...

do you think there's any hope of growing hollyhocks in ft. lauderdale, fl?

k said...

and also, altitude about 10.

Granny J said...

ksquest -- give the hollyhocks a try. I suspect they'd like to be well drained & maybe being a little bit elevated above any ground that is likely to get overly boggy. They may have to be treated as annuals, tho,
because you. in effect, have no winter.

k said...

makes sense. ok. time to go for it.

i've been looking for undoubled (?) hollyhock seeds for something like 25 years. i am SO thrilled to see they're finally available again! thank you!!!

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