Four-feet, five-feet, six-feet-tall–a bevy of the statuesque flowers sway in the breeze, a welcoming sight at the entrance to my bank. They’re everywhere–peeking over the tops of adobe walls at art galleries on Canyon Road and towering over short picket fences at downtown bed and breakfasts.
Thomas Jefferson planted hollyhocks in his garden at Monticello and Georgia O’Keeffe painted this one with a blue larkspur on her first trip to Taos in 1929. My grandmother Lester had a row of them out by her fence in Topeka and showed me how to push a bud with a bit of a stem on it through the center of an open upside-down blossom, well-dressed dolls wearing twirly, full skirts–magenta, white, and yellow.
Native to China hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) made their way first to the Holy Land and from there to southern Europe during the Middle Ages according to Ruth L. Fish’s charming history of the flower. The sturdy flowers came to New Mexico with the Spanish, who called them Las Varas de San Jose, rods of St. Joseph.
To see their abundance in July and August in northern New Mexico makes it hard to believe they aren’t natives. Fish points out, ” . . . no other plant has flourished with such persistent vigor as it has shown, despite the handicaps of general neglect, poor soil , and drought that it has often had to suffer.”
Many in Santa Fe are in well-tended, irrigated flowerbeds, but my favorites are those that thrive in unlikely places. The one pictured here is in a neglected, unwatered bed between the street and a sidewalk, surrounded by weeds, standing in front of a dead tree, gaily blooming as if it were the star attraction in Mr. Jefferson’s garden.
As the summer winds down, it’s a good time to gather some hollyhock seeds–discreetly! Wiki-How provides fifteen steps to successfully grow the flowers from seed, although I am not likely to follow them. I’ll drop a few near my back fence and let nature take its course.