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.