by Leigh Mills
On August 3, the Town of Saguache celebrated its 2nd Annual Hollyhock Festival. Fun, hollyhock-related events took place in the Otto Mears Park and the town’s community building. The main highlight of the festival was a “Best Hollyhock Garden” contest and a tour of 15 Saguache gardens, with prizes awarded in several categories. I had the honor of being one of the judges for the garden contests and in the process, found a new favorite flower.
I took lots of pictures as a garden judge during the Hollyhock Festival and many more when I visited my favorite hollyhock garden two days later. The whole experience renewed my attraction to the beautiful flowers. I did some internet research in preparation for this article and learned quite a bit about these very prolific, drought-tolerant plants.
Hollyhocks, Alcea rosea, were one of the earliest plants brought to the new world. Originally from Asia, the plant’s hardiness, drought tolerance, and soil adaptability supported its cultivation throughout the Middle East, Europe and North American continent. The hollyhock plants growing in our southwestern region are probably descendants of the first seeds planted in the late 1800s when the area became settled, gardencluboftaos.org/Hollyhocks.
There are many uses for this plant and its 60 related species. The common hollyhock is a member of the Mallow family. The plants grow from May until late September and range in height from 3-9 feet tall. Found along fence lines and garden borders, these plants can live up to three years and are able to reseed themselves for generations of color and beauty. The abundant flowers also attract butterflies and bees.
The whole plant is edible and contains medicinal qualities. I found a great website, The Nerdy Farm Wife, which gives instructions for making a hollyhock cold infusion to assist with gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tract imbalances. It also shares how to make a poultice for chapped skin, splinters, painful inflammations and swellings. Here’s the exact address for the document: thenerdyfarmwife.com/five-uses-for-hollyhocks. It also shares ideas for using the hollyhock cold infusion in soap making and how to make a hollyhock doll with the flowers and seed pods.
I also read several other websites that had information about hollyhock history. One of them mentioned that hollyhocks were found in the grave of a Neanderthal man from over 50,000 years ago: gardenguides.com/74814-hollyhocks.html. These flowers have been around for a very long time! I even started to remember some childhood memories of my mother planting a long row of plants that grew very tall and purple flowers bloomed all summer long. I now think those were a type of hollyhock.
As I visited the hollyhock gardens in Saguache, I came to fall in love with the large, frilly edged, multi-colored flowers. Since learning more about them and seeing how they thrive in adverse conditions, I’m going to plant some hollyhock seeds here at the Heyokah this fall and enjoy a new flower here at the homestead next year and many years to come.
Leigh Mills has lived, gardened, preserved food and saved seeds in the San Luis Valley for 11 years. She’s written the “As the Worm Turns” column for over three years and has started a high-altitude gardening and seed saving blog called The Infinite Bee. If you enjoy reading her monthly, visit her daily at TheInfiniteBee.com. See color photos and journal entries that share the experiences of gardening and off-the-grid, homestead living.