For as far back as I can remember I have associated stately hollyhocks with my childhood homes in Kentucky. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and hollyhocks were her lifelong favorite. Recently a cousin sent me an old black and white photo of grandma–circa 1940’s–and in the background of the photo were hollyhocks, standing regally against the weathered clapboard of her house.
Grandma grew hundreds of hollyhocks on the rocky hillside of “Pea Ridge.” A forest of them towered over me as a child. I marked their progression upwards with each weekly visit.
And though hollyhocks generally love full sun, grandma’s hollyhocks grew to gigantic proportions–or so it seemed to a small boy–in the partial shade of a giant elm. The secret was her soil—dark earth amended through the years by countless buckets of chicken manure. It also helped that the hollyhocks were “out back” of the kitchen door, where grandma tossed a dishpan of water after each use.
About the only thing that grandma loved more than her flowers were her hens. The chickens loved nothing more than to dig around the hollyhocks for grubs. When the soil was dusty hens would flop around under the leaves, making low croaking sounds. In a way, the hollyhocks fed the chickens and the chickens fed the hollyhocks.
Grandma has been gone for 30 years, but I cannot pass a clump of lofty hollyhocks without thinking of her, which happens often around here. Hollyhocks along a fence or up against a barn wall are almost a given in the Kentucky countryside. And though many gardeners no longer grow hollyhocks, considering them old-fashioned or not stylish, I smile inside whenever I see them.
Do you associate a particular flower or shrub with a loved one? Please return to My Garden Buddy and enter the conversation. Thanks.
© Wade Kingston