Hollyhocks, rust and me

I love Hollyhocks. They are hugely popular over here and seed themselves around in so many locations, each 'volunteer' placed with more panache than any gardener can. I need to grow hollyhocks but for me there's always the small problem of rust. I'll say that again, RUST.

I guess it's just a case of rust and me. Last year I planted Malva sylvestris 'Primley blue' which started off doing just fine. Sure enough as time went on the rust crept in. I say crept, rather it engulfed the entire plant and by the end of the summer it was a complete mess.

Still I press on. Late last summer I received a free packet of Alcea rosea nigra seeds with Gardens Illustrated magazine. Sown as per instructions and overwintered in my cold frame, these have become strong little plants sprouting more and more from the base as the temperature continues to climb but then no, wait a minute, brown spots appearing on some of the leaves, RUST!

Determined to have hollyhocks, I've brought a number of Alcea ficifolia, hybrid of the fig leaved hollyhock which is more resistant to rust and insurance should my others badly succumb to the disease. The only trouble with this is that the colours are mixed so I don't know what I'm getting, they flower in shades of yellow through pink to red, so who knows.

Above is the bed where the hollyhocks are being planted out. Incredibly, most of the self sown Verbena bonariensis from last year has green shoots appearing, I really thought this winter's weather would have knocked them out but they're OK, there's a lot to be said about leaving the old stems and foliage in place as it offers protection from the frost. This gives me a head start as any of this years self seeding plants are unlikely to flower before July.

I've decided to grow Hyacinth bean this summer. The teepee in the middle of the border has 'sweetpea' written all over it but it bakes up there and mildew is likely to be a problem so I'm hoping this will be the answer. It may be a bit vigorous for the height of that twiggy structure, it's only two metres tall or so, but it'll just be a case of see what happens, which also applies to the wisdom of pairing it with hollyhocks, they may look good together or not, we'll see.

Finally, seed sowing is underway. I've planted a number of perennials which will flower next year and saves a small fortune growing from seed. Amongst their number are Echinacea 'Pink parasol', Nepeta transcaucasica 'Blue infinity', Verbena hastata 'Pink spires' and others.

The little blue crate has seedlings of annual Cosmos 'Sensation radiance rose' and 'sensation picotee'. The plan is to weave these through the hollyhocks and verbena bonariensis. Incidently, I must mention that the cosmos germinated in two days. No word of a lie, I seem to have quite good results using the plastic covered shelving system pictured, affectionately referred to as HQ!


  1. Hollyhocks are nice, but to have that stone wall and tile roof in your second photo!

  2. HQ...:-))
    Main branch, no doubt...:-)

    Hollyhocks are very common and loved over here, too. Especially in southern part of Sweden. I have loads of them at my summer house in the southwestern part of the country, out on a little island. SO beautiful and summery (? is that even a word)
    Rust is no fun, though, hope the other plants will cover up a bit of the loss of leafs. You seem to have quite a bit going on there. Good job, and must say I'm a bit jellous... looking out on my snowy pathes...

    My feed from your blog haven't been working at all, so I've missed some posts, I'm glad it's working again. So nice to see some photos of my favourite countryside:-)
    Have a lovely week!

  3. Man, Rob, you have the magic touch with seed sowing! Good luck with all the hollyhocks. I love the teepee and it might hold those beans. We have had them grow to gigantic proportions some years, and barely take off others, don't know why. We could not germinate the V. hastata at all, not a one. Maybe I need to move the efforts out of doors. :-)

  4. Hollyhocks are beautiful flowers that have been planted around here for years. It looks like you are well on your way to a lovely garden. The stonework that you have certainly helps add beauty. Carla

  5. I empathize with your Hollyhock dilemma. I cannot grow them (or any mallow) here without severe Japanese Beetle damage-- I gave up.

    Last year, I grew hyacinth bean in several places on my 4 foot fence. Your garden tutor will be fine. They'll reach for the sky with long, curling vines, no problem. Hummingbirds love the blooms.

    I'd be interested in your pink vervain satisfaction. I've considered it a few times.

    Yesterday, I picked up a linaria purpura 'Canon J Went' a domesticated form of toadflax that gets good reviews. Though is reseeds, it isn't supposed to be invasive like the species. It has soft pink spires.

    Congrats on your seed germination times! I like your HQ, too.

    One seed to try, if you haven't already, is blue flax (perennial). Linum narbonense 'Heavenly Blue' seeds were sown last fall, directly into the garden. I have seen good success with the germination and have 5 inch seedlings. I have high expectations for a good performance -- to be determined. Trying to get more blue in my garden!

  6. A student gave me a pink, single petaled, hollyhock almost 20 years ago.

    I adore where it pops up. Makes me look like a good gardener.

    Rust? Oh no. Never here. And may it stay that way.

    Beautiful days in your pics........

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  7. The combo sounds stunning, Rob! Please keep us posted with your stunning photos. You certainly are a busy bee!

  8. Hi James, thanks, the stonework in this area is special, the roofs, well costly to maintain.

    Hi Tradgardsmakare, I've seen some beautiful images of the Swedish islands. Yes, summery is a word I understand and use.

    Hi Frances, compliments on my seed germinating success are positively encouraged, ha. However, it's only Cosmos which is taking off right now, the V. hastata I may move out of the sun, it's not doing anything yet.

    Southern lady thanks. I hope the garden looks nice this year. We'll see.

    Hi Cameron, those Japanese beetle are a real problem over there.

    I feel confident that the hyacinth been will be OK but less so germinating the Verbena hastata judging by both yours and France's comments. I've had a quick look at blue flax and love the colour.

    Hi Tara, so, I'm just a teeny, weeny bit jealous of your rust free environment. OK, hugely!

    Hi Joey, I'll post the pics and thanks. It's all go here.

  9. I grew Alcea rugosa for a couple of years with success -- in fact I think there are still rosettes alive under a beautyberry -- but it's a pale yellow, which would probably be lost against the warm-colored limestone.

  10. Good luck with your Hollyhocks Rob! I hope the rust leaves off and that you get the colors you like! I love the combination of blooms you are planing for this bed... look forward to seeing it all abloom. Your HQ and you seem to have the right touch for germination! Happy Spring! Carol

  11. Spring at last! Hollyhocks: I do love them but finally took them out of our garden - rust indeed! Then the roses develop rust and black spot... too many things to battle.
    So I will anxiously await to see the beautiful blossoms in your garden. ;)

  12. Your garden is already looking great, I love that teepee and can just imagine all the flowers you have planned growing together in there.
    Hollyhocks in my yard end up with rust every year. Usually it works it's way up from the bottom and by the time they are done blooming I just cut them down. I still somehow end up with seedlings around them.

  13. Rob, I feel your pain! I have the same problem with my hollyhock. I thought it was typical for my old-fashioned variety. I got some seeds from a fellow gardener, and I'm eager to see if it will be rust-free.
    Two days for cosmos? Incredible!

  14. I love hollyhocks too but the rust seems everywhere. Interesting discussion on the BBC blog:


    but I've never seen a real answer to it.


  15. Rob, mate, you put me to shame! I'm hanging my head at the bounty of your seedlings and your knowledgeable talk on rust and weaving cosmos through your hollyhocks and verbena .......I think I'm just going to creep away quietly and dig a pond somewhere!

  16. No rust on the hollyhocks here. They just don't stick around. I've had them seed successfully from a flowering plant and the new little rosettes form fine, then whamo, winter comes, and for whatever reason (cold, wet, etc.) they don't hang on for a blooming year. It's too bad: they provide great height and are less maintenance than delphiniums. I guess I'll just enjoy yours from afar.

    I really must get myself one of those tiny greenhouses to do seeds in, yours is so tempting.

    Christine in Alaska

  17. Hi Sweetbay, rugosa is the toughest of them all. I've seen it paired with meadow rue and looking superb.

    Hi Carol, happy spring to you. I've still a way to go with the germination mind, it was the Cosmos which shot up.

    Hi Di, same here, blackspot and roses, good years and bad.

    Hi Catherine, I know I'll be pulling leaves off so hopefully the cosmos will hide the 'legs'.

    Tatyana, I hope your new seeds give you a rust free plant.

    Hermes thanks. Always open to suggestions and possible treatments

    Liz, stoppit! You'll make a bloody good pond thats for sure.

    Hi Christine, hope spring's progressing nicely up in Alaska.

  18. I do hope you don't have to deal with rust this season. I fight it constantly with my canna lilies. The cosmos will be a lovely addition to your garden as well. They're coming along nicely!

  19. I have that same packet of free seeds too Rob but have not sown them yet :( Must go and have a peek at the back of the packet. Hope that the rust is not a nuisance this year. Glad to hear that your verbena b has come through the winter - maybe I might have a few survivors at the lottie. Those little blue crates must be universal :)

  20. Hi Rob,

    I tried for 3 years to get hollyhocks to grow in my garden. And they grow like crazy in my parts, but everything failed. I was so disappointed. Then one day my husband dug a couple up from a friend of his garden and stuck them in ground and they have been growing ever since. Go figure!


  21. Hi Kimberley, I wonder whether your Canna have the dreaded canna virus. Might be worth checking. It was a big problem in europe at one time though efforts are being made to eradicate it.

    Hi Anna, get 'em sown, got to take advantage of a freebee. I was seduced by the 'artsy' packaging. Good germination mind, the seeds are supplied by Suttons so a break from T and M world domination (could they be the Microsoft of the seed industry?)

    Hi Janet, you make an interesting point. I'm glad they're now growing for you. I may try something similar if needs be.

  22. black hollyhocks...great choice.

  23. Hi! Beautiful blog.
    Hollyhocks sure are nice. I've always been intimidated by their hight. Don't know where to put them. Would love to put them up against the house but I've heard that it attracts potentially harming insects to your house. We also have a huge japanese beetle problem here.
    Think I'll just enjoy them on your blog and in other gardens.

  24. I read that there are Hollyhocks that are rust resistant and even bug resistant. I hope to see more of your next posts to see what will work for you, because Hollyhocks are really beautiful flowers especially your choice of color. You've done a great job on your seed bed and frame. Keep me posted! Here, in Florida, there's a Greenfest for Gardening and Conservation Education that I would be attending over the weekend. :)

  25. Let's see. I've got the grubs, the rust on hollyhocks and malva which keeps me from growing either, and am growing the hyacinth bean vine this year. Nice to have something in common with your beautiful garden.

  26. Oh the black hollyhocks are so regal. I've got some and malva too--no rust cause of my bloom juice. I wonder if I can get it mailed to you? How does France feel about such concoctions? Both plants need Hot Pepper Wax and my stuff. .

    Love your gardens today and so glad I stopped by to see you.

  27. Oh yes, I adore those hollyhocks and have planted about four dozen against a masonry wall. They were healthy last summer, but I spy rust on the new hollyhocks. I am stripping off the bad leaves and destroying them all so as to keep the spores from going throughout the stand. The disease starts as a microscopic spore that is transported by wind, handling, pets, tools, etc.

    Here is my organic method of rust control as written in Trowel & Error, my book.

    1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
    1 Tablespoon of canola oil
    1/2 teaspoon soap (not detergent)
    1/2 cup white vinegar
    1 Gallon water

    Blend ingredients and pour into a spray bottle. Shake thoroughly and apply weekly to tops and undersides of leaves (where rust often lurks).

    NEVER spray in hot sun as you will burn the leaves. I got this recipe from a friend who lives on Little Cranberry Island during the summer. I've used it as have many others and find that it works.

    Good luck!

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  28. I planted hollyhocks for the first time last year. I loved the look of them but that rust (or should I say RUST) was awful. They always look so good in the nursery but then, wham! So I didn't plant any this year. The only good thing about my experience was that they were far away from where I could see them and get too bothered by the rust. The hardest winter in 25 years here and the V. bonariensis weren't hurt a bit. They are tough!

  29. Rob, I know what you mean about rust in hollyhocks and remember you left me a comment about my healthy one... well, rust is everywhere in hollyhocks here too but what I do is to take off the leaves, all of them if necessary and flowers bloom with no problem. I use to put away in the garbish the leaves, not in my compost, but recently I have buy california worms to make Humus and you can throw there everything, even the weeds... worms do a great job and then you have the best nutrition soil for the garden.
    Maria Cecilia

  30. Lovely blog!!

    Laura from Italy


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