This year's nominee in the elusive success quest category: Hollyhocks. You know, those ubiquitous cottage garden plants that ringed every grandma's garage or stood at the back of the border just inside the picket fence. Seemingly everyone can grow them. Except me.
My on-and-off attempts to grow them date back to my very first gardening forays, when my mother let me have a few unclaimed patches of the yard and garden to try out some seeds. It was not a universal success, to say the least. The carnations fell victim to my zealous grandfather with a mower. The pumpkins grew really, really big, but crept lawlessly into the laneway to a field, where they got ruthlessly smashed by those enormous back wheels of a tractor. The hollyhock seedlings? They got a piece of machinery parked on top of them.
When I first got my own garden, I tried again, thinking a row of hollyhocks along the border by the garage would look peachy. But they looked more peaked than peachy, and no blooms materialized, and they didn't revive the following year. So I let a few more years go by and tried again, with no better results, despite the seemingly appropriate growing conditions. Hollyhock mallow, a free-spirited self-sower, is no problem to grow, but the spiky biennials, not so much for me.
I've had other bugaboo plants that I couldn't seem to grow over the years that I've finally managed to conquer. Delphinums eluded me, but for a few years now, mine have been proudly waving in the breeze at the back of the border, so I'm cautiously declaring success.
So after years of driving by abandoned farm houses where hollyhocks still stand stalwart, I thought it was time to try once more with one of my longest-running bugaboos. To give myself a leg up, I bought plants rather than starting from seed, which may be cheating, but you know who prospers. And I've got watering lines running past them to help keep the soil moist.So far they're at least growing; still waiting on flower buds.
How about you? Do you have bugaboo plants that you just can't seem to grow? Are there some you've mastered, and did you change your approach to get them to grow?
If this works, I might try carnations from seed again. But I don't think I'll ever have room for pumpkins.
The photo? That's clearly not from my garden, at least not yet. credit: Star Tribune file