I've had it with hollyhocks. I want to love them. When I look out across my garden and see those amazing spikes soaring into the sky, it brings me right to a place of cottage garden ecstasy. I had this fabulous theory that growing them in my rich, gorgeous raised bed soil would keep them happy. WRONG. Soon after I wrote a blog post about letting hollyhocks back into my garden, the orange pustules appeared. Rust. The dreaded disease of hollyhocks. Within two weeks, I couldn't stand it anymore. I donned rubber gloves and grabbed a couple of plastic garbage bags and denuded the plants. I removed every single leaf. They looked ridiculous up close, but from my deck, far away down the hill with all sorts of calendulas and other vegetables in front of them, they look fantastic.
Last night, while moving my hose from tomato plant to tomato plant in my garden (a slow, relaxing exercise for a summer evening filled with the perfume of trumpet lilies), I saw the rust on the stems of my bare hollyhocks. That's it. Banished, again!
Today I was visiting a client who suffered the same agony. She had frilled, double hollyhocks around her deck. They looked so pretty from across the yard. When I got close, I saw the rust and she complained to me that she wasn't up to treating them every week, even with an organic fungicide. I felt her pain.
Can I stick to my guns? I don't know. It works for a few years and then I give in. Even now, a single, deep red hollyhock is flowering outside of my home office window where I write this. It doesn't have rust- YET. I have enjoyed watching it open and wave in the breeze. I love to see the hummingbirds and butterflies nectar on it. Opposite this plant, on the other side of the lawn, in my main border, a rose of Sharon is in full flower. They look like cousins. I am a sucker for the hibiscus family. I just wish there was a way to grow hollyhocks without the rust and without having to treat them. I won't do it, so I guess I won't be growing them... for a while.