Hollyhocks
The "Dancing Lady" Flowers

As a child, the signs of hollyhocks blooming meant that summer vacation was near. We called them dancing ladies because we would take a flower that had opened fully and a bud that was smaller in size.

Placing the full bloom upside down, we would insert the smaller bud into the bottom of the full bloom, which formed what looked like a lady with a beautiful full dress.

Next we would place them gently on top of water in a large container, and when the wind would blow, it would take "the ladies" and "dance" them across the top of the water.

The hollyhock was introduced to this country from China and was used as an herb. These beautiful flowers became popular during the Victorian era both in England and the United States. It is a plant that is easily grown from seed.

It is also easy to put into the mail and send anywhere in the world. Many of the old homesteads would have these plants growing around them simply because it was a small reminder of homes that they had left, and were a very common sight in the old frontier. Many times, if you ever look at really old pictures, you will see hollyhocks along the house or tied to the fence. The pioneers would tie them to the fence for support because these plants are very top heavy.

If more gardeners realized how easy these plants are to grow they would plant more of them. They are very hearty, and grow as easily as sunflowers. These plants will survive in almost any soil that is well drained, but keep in mind that they love to be in full sun. Protect them from strong wind, and once established, they are quite drought-resistant.

Hollyhocks germinate very easily and you will be able to save the seeds for next year's plantings. The seeds that do fall to the ground will germinate and produce new plants.

Hollyhocks are great as backdrop flowers as they will grow to be 4-7 feet tall. Plant them 2-1/2 to 3 feet apart to allow air to circulate once they've matured. You should consider using an odd number of plants unless you are looking for an even, uniform look.

They tend to grow into a stunning solid mass, making a very dramatic statement. In front of your hollyhocks you can plant any number of plants...scatter in a few gladiolas, irises, daisies, black-eyed Susan's, dahlias, baby's breath, or mums. All of these plants will help to cover the lower stems of the hollyhocks which tend to be bare and spindly.

One problem with these plants is that they are susceptible to hollyhock rust, which is a fungal disease. It is more serious in humid climates and crowded conditions. The flowers are not affected by this fungus, but the foliage will get dark brown bumps outlined with yellow. Rust rarely kills the plant but it does adversely affect its appearance. The one perennial hollyhock, Alcea rugosa, seems to be more resistant to rust than other types.

You will enjoy their blooms from mid summer until late fall, and once the flowers have bloomed, take the old blossoms off.

There is a large variety to choose from with different types of flowers, they are easy to grow, and nice to have for floral arrangements. Best of all you will be able to make your own dancing ladies.

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