Horrible hollyhocks

There are few plants I don’t or won’t grow. I will certainly give everything a go at least once. Most don’t get grown again for a while because, with the best will in the world, I can’t grow everything! Of course, having moved several times, the plants that last longest, and I should grow for ever, like trees and shrubs, have to be left behind. It is a special tree indeed to get planted in every garden! Annuals and biennials need concerted effort to grow every year and most have a brief break before I renew their friendship.

And it was renewing my friendship with Margery Fish that made me sow hollyhocks this spring. More than any other garden writer it was Margery Fish that influenced my early gardening. Her descriptions of West-country cottage gardens have stayed with me and (I hope) I share her passion for the history and facts about plants. I was also asked to do a talk about Gertrude Jekyll this year (which of course did not happen) and that too involved cottage gardens, this time in Surrey, with old ladies in wide dresses standing by front doors under towering hollyhocks.

I like hollyhocks but they have a major flaw and that is rust disease. Rust diseases are more than just inconveniences, they ruin the plants. They tend to be more of a problem in rural areas than urban ones partly because of the lack of sulphurous pollution, which naturally curbs fungal diseases bit also because of the roadside malvaceous weeds which are a reservoir of infection.

But here I am with a new garden and a windy one to boot, that should hardly provide the ‘stagnant’ airless conditions beloved of fungal problems. Good grief – it is so windy I am thinking of only growing grasses and alpines. So it was with a heavy heart that I see the hollyhocks have rust. I am sure that neighbouring gardens do not grow them, they were grown from seed and were clean as a whistle until a few weeks ago, and I have not seen any wild malvas along the roadside.

I am not prepared to spray to prevent the disease so I fear this means the end of them for me. You can reduce the problem by not allowing the plants (which are short-lived perennials) to overwinter and growing new every year from seed. But I am not sure I like hollyhocks enough for this.

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7 Comments on “Horrible hollyhocks”

  1. Annabel
    September 14, 2020 at 8:03 am #

    My garden is a very windy too. Slowly I m learning what does well and what cannot withstand the wind.
    To my surprise foxgloves and the hollyhocks despite their height are doing fine in my garden. You got me worried with your post, so I went to have a look and…the leaves are turning a bit brown but no sign of these bright orange stains on the stems or leaves. I guess im lucky !

    • thebikinggardener
      September 19, 2020 at 9:40 am #

      I am pleased you are rust-free! I must say that the hollyhocks have stood up to the wind quite well though the foxgloves were, largely, felled.

  2. tonytomeo
    September 14, 2020 at 3:37 pm #

    Bingo!
    That is exactly why I do not grow them either.

  3. digwithdorris
    September 16, 2020 at 9:52 pm #

    I often admire them in other people’s gardens but find them annoying because of the rust. I can’t be bothered with all that rusty business

  4. Paddy Tobin
    September 16, 2020 at 10:12 pm #

    Rust on garlic is a perennial bother here and I have failed to remedy the problem. Any suggestions?

    Hollyhocks? I couldn’t be bothered with them. For some reason, they have never appealed to me.

    • thebikinggardener
      September 19, 2020 at 9:39 am #

      I like the cottagey, chocolate-box look of hollyhocks but I hate rust. I have not grown them for ages and I may cull them if they get much worse. Rust on garlic is an issue but it does not usually affect the crop too badly – just looks awful. I don’t like to spray edibles so not sure what to suggest – especially as planting garlic around roses is supposed to deter rust!

      • Paddy Tobin
        September 19, 2020 at 12:51 pm #

        Yes, I have just learned to live with it as the garlic is not effected at all.

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