The Cottage Gardener 6: 264-266 (July 31, 1851)

An Hour with the Hollyhock
William Paul

This is another of those very useful little pamphlets prepared by Mr. W. Paul, of the Nurseries, at Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire, and which every cultivator of the flower should purchase. It is full of practical information, but we will give only two extracts showing that its contents are varied:—

"History of the Hollyhock.— The old English writers spelt the word Hollihocke, Holyoak, and Holyock, whence it is supposed to have been derived from the Saxon 'Holihec." Linnaeus considers it a distinct genus, and named it Alcea, from the Greek word Αλχη in allusion to its medical properties, on account of which it was formerly much valued.

"In a work translated from the German, and published in London nearly three centuries ago, we have the following particulars;—

" 'There be divers sorts of Mallowes, whereof some be of the garden and some be wild, the which also be of divers kinds. The garden mallow (Hollyhock), called the winter or beyond-sea Rose, is of divers sortes, not onely in leaves, stalkes, and growing, but in proposition, colour, and flowers; for some be single, some double, some white, some carnation, some of a cleere or light red, some of a darke red, some gray and speckled.' Then follows a description, in which it is called 'the Great Tame Mallow, with great round rough leaves, larger, whiter, and unevener than the leaves of the other hockes or mallowes. The stalk is rounde, and groweth sixe or seaven foote high or more…… The root is great and long, and continueth a long time, putting forth yeerely newe leaves and stalks.' It is there called Malva sativa and Rosa ultramarina.

"It is evident that at the close of the sixteenth century the Hollyhock was much prized and generally cultivated; for Gerard, writing at that time, states that it was then sown in gardens almost everywhere. In Gerard's Herbal (edition 1636) are three plates of Hollyhocks; 'the Single Garden Hollihock,' which we assume to be the type of the garden varieties of our day; 'the Jagged Strange Hollihock,' whence, apparently, have descended Sulphurea palmata and others of that strain; and 'the Double Purple Hollihock.' The writer also speaks of another, 'which bringeth forth a great stalke, of the height of ten or twelve feet, growing to the form of a small tree.' 'The flowers are very great and double, as the greatest Rose or Double Paeony, of a deepe red color, tending to blacknesse.' "

"This state of gradual improvement probably went on extending over a space of 250 years, and might have continued to this moment, had not one cultivator stepped out of the beaten track, and, working free from professional trammels, followed a course of culture dictated by his own observation and experience. This man was Mr. Charles Baron, a man unversed in garden literature, unused to move among the skilled in the hidden and mysterious art, and, probably, knowing little of the vegetable kingdom beyond what existed within the boundary of his own small garden-plat. The Hollyhock was his favourite flower; to attend to it was his recreation; his labour was a labour of love. And thus the humble shoemaker of Walden, by concentrating his attention on a single species of plant, soon distanced all competitors, and originated those flowers which form one of the most striking and gorgeous features of modern flower-gardens."

"Choice of Varieties.— Let us suppose, then, that we are about to plant a seminary, and have decided that it shall contain twelve varieties: how shall we select them? The following have been chosen with the view to embrace every important feature of the flower in the greatest perfection.

" 1. Attraction; chocolate and white, very prettily veined. Not a flower of first-rate properties, but distinct, and regarded as the type of a strain of veined flowers.

" 2. Black Prince; flowers nearly black, petals opaque and very glossy. The object to be gained here is larger and better-shaped flowers of the same colour.

" 3. Commander-in-Chief; flowers rose-colour, edged. A poor variety, but of an elegant branching habit. Varieties of this habit, with improved flowers, are a desideratum.

" 4. Comet; flowers bright crimson, very large, and of excellent form. The petals are of great substance, the habit noble, but rather tall. This is certainly one of the best, and we should like to see flowers of every colour equal to it, with the improvement of a dwarfer habit.

" 5. Delicata; flowers French-white. This variety, when not hybridized, comes true from seed; hence we should have great confidence in crossing for the attainment of a given end.

" 6. Magnum Bonum; a fine rich dark-coloured variety, of the habit of Comet.

" 7. Napoleon; flowers red and buff, showy, but not good. Seeds freely. A good flower of this colour still wanted.

" 8. Obscura; flowers shaded puce. This is a distinct and finely-formed flower, very soft and silvery in appearance.

" 9. Queen; flowers blush. Seedlings from this variety often come true: Delicata and Model of Perfection have also been raised from it. Habit fine.

"10. Rosea grandiflora; flowers pink. One of the finest, both as to flowers and habit. It often comes true from seed, sometimes produces Surprise, and occasionally Delicata.

"11. Sulphurea perfecta; flowers sulphur, the finest of this colour. Varieties of a deeper tint would be a great acquisition.

"12. While Perfection; the best pure white known. More varieties of this colour are wanted.

"With these materials, and a camel-hair-pencil, we are prepared for crossing. The best time for carrying on this work is the morning, and so soon as the dew passes from the flowers. There are, perhaps, no varieties, however double, which will not yield stamens and styles to a close inspection. It is only necessary to collect the pollen from the stamens by passing the brush lightly over them, and to convey it to the flower required to produce seed. Such kinds as are not very double, and seed freely, may be grown in a rich soil, and the spikes may be shortened, leaving, after thinning, about twelve flowers on each. Never allow a bad or imperfect flower to remain for seed; invariably pull off such immediately that it appears. The very double kinds may be grown in a poor soil. The spikes should not be shortened, but the flowers of all will require a plentiful thinning. As the flowers at the lower end of the stem die off, the petals should he drawn from the calyx, to prevent moisture from gathering round the seed-vessels, which would injure, if not destroy, the seed. Hand-picking is, perhaps, the best way of accomplishing this; and if the petals are ready to be separated, they will yield to a slight pull with the thumb and finger. Crossing may be repeated day by day, as the flowers expand, until we reach the top of the stem. The plants should be watered freely during the formation of the seeds; and as the latter ripen (the shrivelling of the calyx is a tolerably correct test of fitness) they may be gathered, and tied in coarse muslin bags—separately or not, as the cultivator may please—and placed in a dry, airy, sunny situation. With such as flower late the spikes may be cut from the plants, and placed upright in a greenhouse, or under a south wall, where the seeds will ripen better than if detached from the stem. The seeds first gathered may be sown immediately, as there will be time for them to germinate and become strong before the commencement of winter. The bulk of the seed, however, cannot be sown to advantage before the spring; and early in March is, perhaps, the best time."