This is the month of the test of the gardener. Were I running things I would simply cut August out of the calendar. Richardson Wright, The Gardener’s Bed-Book, 1929
Here I go again, quoting my favorite garden writer. You’d think the man lived next door and looked out his study window into my perennial island.
He shakes his head at my scrawny red hollyhocks and wonders why on earth I waste my writing time.
Well, I’d say, the seedlings sure do start off with a boast and promise of healthy blooms. I weed, fertilize, water, mulch, and enclose them in a decorative obelisk to protect them from deer.
Isn’t that enough TLC? After all, hollyhocks are mallows. They’re drought-tolerant, and not supposed to be finicky.
Take my mother’s pink hollyhocks, for instance. She planted seeds in the soil beside her backyard patio. Summer after summer, they grew taller and wider than me in her hot, humid Appalachian climate.
For proof, Mom posed for a photo with a blossom to her ear. What on earth did I do with that picture?
You’ll just have to trust me, dear Reader.
I left Mom’s house with hollyhock seeds, which I promptly sowed in my Michigan garden, with all the faith in the world.
Speaking of world, this largely forgotten medicinal plant, Althea rosea, spread from China to the Middle East. The Crusaders named it “holy” and “hoc,” old English for “mallow.”
This I learned from the summer issue of Herb Quarterly featuring the malvaceae family, and spotlighting the stately hollyhock.
I fell in love with hollyhocks at first sight the summer of 1954 when my parents rented a house on Yacama Street in Detroit. Pink hollyhocks grew in the stinky, dirty alley between trashcans.
My sisters and I pulled off blossoms and made ballerinas with toothpicks. That must’ve been Mom’s idea. I certainly wasn’t that clever at five years old.
That beautiful memory prompts my perennial effort to grow the towering plant. The stalks will mature if I fend off the deer. Then come August, they die back.
Victorians adored hollyhocks, known for centuries as a healing herb “to soothe and warm the stomach” and “ease coughs and sore throats.”
From the leaf to seed, the entire plant is edible and rich in medicinal value. I’d like to make a pot of tea with the seeds. A currant lavender lemon scone on the side would be nice.
However, it’s August. I’ve reconciled I may never set my eyes on hollyhocks like I remember on Yacama and my mother’s back garden. I shall find seeds to brew from another source.
I may as well dig up the puny hollyhocks and seek a suitable replacement. A deer-resistant plant. Scarlet hibiscus. Caryopteris. Something that blooms heartily through summer while I deadhead lilies.
Meanwhile, I’ll experiment with hollyhock roots in green bean soup. Stimulating one’s digestion is a healthy way to reconcile garden regret.
Regarding Mr. Wright’s sentiments, since August yields stringed beans and tomatoes, I prefer to keep the month on my calendar.
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