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Another Day in the Country

The year of the hollyhocks

© Another Day in the Country

There’s a hollyhock explosion in my backyard. Every few days, thinking they are at their peak, I take another picture to record the event only to discover a few days later that they are looking even more grand and elegant.

I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I’ve been trying to get a stand of hollyhock glory like this for 20 years and failed miserably.

Some years, I admit, I wasn’t in residence in Ramona for the summer — having taken up grandchild-keeping while my grandson’s mother worked. Always, however, I tried growing hollyhocks, which require planning.

Hollyhocks are a two-year-task. You plant them one year and mostly ignore them. You still have to keep them alive through the hot summer and grasshopper plagues. If you don’t, you’ll never see what they might become.

My sister would send pictures to California in June with the caption, “Your hollyhocks are looking lovely,” and I’d look at the half a dozen specimens and wish for more.

From my childhood, I remembered drifts, flocks, hosts of hollyhocks growing on the south side of Grandma Ehrhardt’s house. That’s what I wanted to see again.

One year in the 1990s, the Schubert clan came back to Ramona to have a family reunion.

My sister and I already had bought the Ramona House on the main drag and fixed it up to be habitable in the summer.

What to my wondering eye should appear but a bunch of hollyhocks blooming with abandon in my neighbor’s yard across the street.

Of course, I took pictures and then commented to David about his lovely hollyhocks. As I recall, he just shrugged, chuckled, and said something about throwing out a packet of seeds, as if it were nothing. He seemed as surprised as I was at the beautiful flowers blooming in his front yard.

That’s what I wanted. Someday I would reside long enough in Ramona to plant hollyhocks in my yard.

I’d already done peony planting under supervision of Jakie Brunner, whom we heralded as the Peony Prince in Ramona.

When would I be able to take on the task of having a hopefully self-perpetuating bed of hollyhocks?

Years went by, and we took the plunge to return to Ramona. Once again, I scrounged around for hollyhock seeds — planting it with abandon.

In 2010, some friends came to visit, and I took them to Abilene to eat at a big old, restored mansion that housed a restaurant.

As we were circling the block to find parking, I spied a nondescript building with hollyhocks on both sides of the front door.

I had never seen such a wonderful stand of this humble flower. So, of course, I had to take another picture.

This was what I wanted. Was such perfection even possible?

Without even looking at the photo albums that house pictures of my dream bed of hollyhocks, I could envision what they looked like. So, I kept planting hollyhock seeds.

One day, at a health club, one of the chatters said to me, “When you leave, Pat, drive past my house and take a look at our hollyhocks. They are really beautiful this year.”

I said I would.

“And,” he continued, “do you know what I did?”

Of course, I didn’t.

“I broke off the main stem of all those burgeoning hollyhock plants so that they bloomed out more below. They are spectacular.”

They were beautiful, and I went home with hollyhock seeds in my pocket and vowed I wouldn’t give up trying in what had become a search for the Holy Grail of hollyhocks in my very own yard.

Last summer, I decided to try hollyhocks at the back of a flower bed behind my house.

I used seeds I’d gathered from here, there and everywhere, spiked with a package of seeds from a nursery catalog. 

When they came up in the wrong place — as Hollyhock plants most often do — I transplanted them.

They are difficult to transplant. They have a long taproot that seems to go down forever.

Eventually, I managed to get a row, of sorts, all along the back of the flower bed, and once the growing season was over and the ground frozen, I resigned myself, waiting for spring.

Twenty years I’ve been trying to get a stand of hollyhocks in a spot that I’ve chosen, and this is the year it happened.

There they stand in all their glory, like an honor guard saluting the queen. And I’m the queen of this garden! What more could you want on another day in the country?

Last modified June 20, 2024

 

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